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The Army is investigating seven Minnesota National Guardsmen for allegedly mistreating Kosovars during raids that followed a spate of rioting last spring in that NATO-occupied province of Yugoslavia.

The soldiers, who were not identified by name, are from the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, part of the Minnesota National Guard based at Albert Lea, Minn.

The seven have been “titled” by the Fort Belvoir, Va.-based Criminal Investigation Command, commonly referred to as CID, said Ralph Stinson, spokesman for the 21st Theater Support Command in Mannheim, Germany.

“Titled” means CID investigators found “sufficient information to conclude misconduct of some sort may have occurred,” Stinson said.

Two Kosovar men charged that soldiers mistreated locals during an April 22 cordon search in the eastern Serbian enclave of Vrbovac.

The cordon search, in which troops close off an area for house-to-house searches, was conducted following riots March 17-18 that killed 19 people, most in Mitrovica near the Kosovo-Serbia border.

Brig. Gen. Rick Erlandson, commander of the Army’s Task Force Falcon in Kosovo, conducted the investigation. The results of that investigation have been submitted to Maj. Gen. Bennie E. Williams, 21st TSC commander, who is the court-martial convening authority for forces in Kosovo.

There is no deadline for Williams to make a decision whether to bring charges, Stinson said.

If Williams’ review is not complete by the end of the month — when the current task force is scheduled to leave — the soldiers could be held in Kosovo rather than return to Minnesota with their units, Stinson said.

The United Nations and NATO took control of Kosovo in 1999 after a 78-day bombing campaign to halt a civil war between Yugoslavs and Albanian separatists.

In those five years, accusations of abuse by occupying U.S. soldiers have been rare. However, there have a few cases, including:

• The 2000 killing of an 11-year-old Kosovar Albanian girl by Staff Sgt. Frank Ronghi, of the 82nd Airborne Division. Ronghi was sentenced to life in prison.

• The transfer of an 82nd Airborne battalion in Vitina after allegations that troops mistreated locals during a January 2000 demonstration organized by radical Kosovar Albanians trying to free a radical Muslim separatist in Macedonia.

• Nine members — five soldiers and four officers — of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 504th Regiment of the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne were disciplined that same year for using inappropriate force during interrogations.


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