WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish military court cleared seven soldiers of war crime charges Wednesday over the killing of civilians in Afghanistan four years ago.
While serving in the NATO mission in 2007, the soldiers shelled the Afghan village of Nangar Khel, killing six civilians, including women and children, and injuring two more who later died in hospital.
The military court in Warsaw said there was not sufficient evidence that the soldiers had committed a war crime, bringing to an end the first such trial in Poland, which still has more than 2,500 troops serving in Afghanistan.
“This is an unprecedented event in the history of the Polish judiciary,” said the judge, Colonel Miroslaw Jaroszewski, adding that the accusation prepared by prosecutors was faulty.
“Lingering doubts cannot be settled to the detriment of the accused,” Jaroszewski added.
The prosecution has the right of appeal against the verdict.
The mistaken killing of civilians by foreign forces, usually during air strikes or night-time raids, is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has complicated efforts to win support from ordinary Afghans.
Poland’s defense and foreign ministers recently appealed publicly for a lenient ruling, saying the Nangar Khel killings were a tragic accident, not a deliberate crime.
Public support for the mission is low in Poland, the biggest ex-communist NATO member, and pulling out became a key issue in last year’s presidential election. Poland hopes to withdraw all its troops from the Afghan mission by 2014.
NATO and Afghan officials said Sunday at least nine civilians were killed in a NATO-led air strike in one of the deadliest foreign assaults on civilians in Afghanistan in months.
Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton