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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 15:27 GMT
German skull row troops suspended
German newspaper Bild photo showing a soldier with a skull
Bild said the photos dated from 2003
Germany has suspended four more troops in a row over photos of German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan - bringing the total suspensions to six.

The Ministry of Defence says 23 people are now being investigated. Sixteen of those involved are soldiers currently in active service, officials say.

Last week two soldiers were suspended after the macabre pictures were published in the popular daily Bild.

Since then photos of similar, separate incidents have emerged.

RTL TV showed images of a soldier kissing a skull, and of skulls mounted in a pile.

Prosecutors have said the six could face charges of disturbing the peace of the dead, which carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

Origins of remains

Defence Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said it appeared the skulls did not come from a grave or memorial site.

So far, we have seen no indications that [their] superiors knew of this
Ministry of Defence spokesman

"We have an indication that the field where these human remains were found is about 2km from the Camp Warehouse [a military base near Kabul]," he said.

He refused to comment on the origins of the remains.

However, he said there was no indication that high-ranking German soldiers were involved or knew about the photos.

"So far, we have seen no indications that [their] superiors knew of this," he said.

Backlash fears

In a separate incident on Wednesday, the German news weekly Stern published a picture reportedly showing a German special forces vehicle in Afghanistan painted with a Nazi symbol.

It said the photo was taken in 2001.

There is concern that such photographs could spark a backlash not only against German troops serving in Afghanistan, but against the entire Nato-led mission there, says the BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Berlin.

The first pictures to emerge dated from 2003, the Bild newspaper said.

They included an image of a soldier holding a skull next to his exposed genitals, and of soldiers placing it on the bonnet of their jeep.

RTL said the second batch was taken in 2004.

The scandal coincided with a German announcement that its deployment in Afghanistan would be extended.

Senior figures have called for a review of training given to the armed forces.

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