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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 20:27 GMT
Peacekeepers die in Kabul blast
German troops leave for Afghanistan
Germany's sending troops was controversial
Three Danish and two German soldiers have died in an explosion in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The German Defence Ministry said the five men, who were serving with the international peacekeeping force, were killed while destroying two Russian-made SA-3 ground-to-air missiles at a munitions dump in the capital.

Member of a German ordnance disposal unit
Discarded ammunition is a serious problem

They are thought to be the first military casualties suffered by either country in Afghanistan.

Brigadier-General Carl Hubertus von Butler, commander of the peacekeeping force's German contingent, said eight German and Danish soldiers were wounded, three seriously.

German army chief Harald Kujat said there was no evidence of sabotage.

"This was an accident. It appears that the material detonated too early although it appears that every protocol was followed," he said.


What happened was a tragic accident - it had nothing to do with a military conflict

Gerhard Schroeder
German Chancellor
"These were experienced, well trained soldiers," he said, dismissing speculation that the men were ill-equipped for their task.

The BBC's Susannah Price says there are hundreds of thousands of landmines scattered around Afghanistan and large quantities of unexploded ordnance left over from more than two decades of war.

ISAF has been particularly involved in helping to clear the large amount of weaponry around Kabul airport, and in the past few months some Afghan de-miners have been killed in accidents.

The German Defence Minister, Rudolf Scharping, has cut short a trip to Djibouti, where he was visiting German naval forces, to return to Berlin.

Safety fears

Some 4,000 international troops have been deployed by the United Nations to help maintain security in Kabul following the removal from power of the Taleban regime.

Main Isaf troop contributors
UK 1800
Germany 770
Holland 200
Denmark 40
Austria 30

The incident is likely to raise new questions about the security of the force, which is due to stay in the capital at least until June.

The BBC's Rob Broomby in Berlin says it will in particular fuel debate in Germany about the presence of their soldiers in Kabul.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had a hard task persuading his government coalition partner, the Green Party, which has its roots in the pacifist movement, that the deployment of German soldiers to Afghanistan was desirable in the first place.

All post-war German military deployments have sparked heated debate.

After Wednesday's incident, the chancellor was quick to stress that the soldiers had died in non-confrontational circumstances.

"What happened was a tragic accident," he said. "It had nothing to do with a military conflict."

In Copenhagen, Danish Defence Minister Svend Aage Jensby expressed his "deep sympathy to the families and loved ones of the victims, as well as their colleagues in the region".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rebecca Jones
"It is the first time German troops have been in action outside Europe since the second world war"
See also:

06 Mar 02 | Europe
Germany's military soul searching
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda stronghold under siege
23 Dec 01 | Europe
Germany approves Afghan force
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
UN envoy urges larger Afghan force
02 Feb 02 | South Asia
Peacekeepers key to Afghan future
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