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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
Iraqi boy's death 'unfortunate accident'
Boy carries water in Basra
Life is still hard in Basra

British military authorities have begun an investigation into an incident in which a 14-year-old boy was shot dead by a British soldier.

British Army spokesman in Basra Captain Crispian Cuss said initial inquiries showed the incident was "in no way malicious".

He said: "It appears to have been a very unfortunate accident rather than anything else."

It appeared a weapon had gone off during a struggle between the boy, Ali Salim, and a soldier.

The boy had been playing near a school used to house soldiers of the Queen's Dragoon Guards in Basra on Saturday.

A doctor at Basra's teaching hospital, who treated the boy, told the BBC he had suffered a single bullet wound to the abdomen and died several hours later.

There are a number of different reports
MoD spokesman

He said the weapon had been fired from very close range.

On Monday night, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokeswoman said: "During a routine patrol of the 7th Armoured Brigade, there was an incident when one of several youths was involved in a struggle to take a weapon from a soldier and a shot was discharged injuring one of them."

She said a Royal Military Police investigation was under way to establish what had happened.

Sensitive time

It is unclear whether the boy was joking or was making a serious attempt to take the gun.

A friend, who said he had seen the shooting, alleged the boy was joking and talking with a soldier guarding the barracks when the soldier opened fire without provocation.

An MoD spokesman said: "There are a number of different reports. Until our investigation is completed we cannot really guess which is the right one."

The boy's death comes at a sensitive time for coalition forces.

US soldiers in Falluja killed 15 people after two demonstrations recently, saying protesters had opened fire on them.

They also killed a similar number in Mosul in similar circumstances.

The incidents have exacerbated anti-American sentiment in the areas and prompted demonstrations.

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