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Cablegate: Afghanistan Frees Finnish Peacekeeper's Killers

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHHE #0860/01 3391311
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051311Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3936
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0067

C O N F I D E N T I A L HELSINKI 000860

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/NB AND INL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/05/2017
TAGS: PGOV NATO MARR SNAR PREL MOPS FI AF
SUBJECT: AFGHANISTAN FREES FINNISH PEACEKEEPER'S KILLERS

REF: A. REF A: THOME-EUR/NB E-MAILS
B. MAY 2007
C. REF B: HELSINKI 817
D. REF C: HELSINKI 753
E. REF D: HELSINKI 715

Classified By: PolChief Gregory Thome, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: The GoF continues to receive
unsatisfactory answers from the GoA as to why President
Karzai suddenly ordered the release of five Afghan men
convicted in June for detonating a roadside bomb that
killed a Finnish peacekeeper in Meymenah. Unofficial
reports from Afghanistan-based Finnish officers all seem
to point to prisoner abuse and to corruption that may
include top Karzai Government officials. The Finnish
MFA and MOD remain fully committed to Finland?s
participation in ISAF and still hope it will increase in
2008. However, with a divided GOF engaged in a sharp
debate over the question of Finland?s doing more in
Afghanistan, many officials fear the killers' release
could negatively impact public opinion. END SUMMARY.

BACKGROUND
----------
2. (U) In May, a roadside bomb killed one Finnish
soldier and wounded three Norwegians who were serving in
ISAF's Meymenah Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in
Faryab Province (Ref A). In June, Afghan authorities
convicted seven men in connection with the attack,
originally condemning them to death but later reducing
their sentence to 20 years in prison. However, to the
GoF's great surprise, the GoA abruptly freed five of the
seven men in October, after President Karzai apparently
issued them a pardon. Two remain in prison.

3. (SBU) Karzai's pardon of men the Finns still hold
responsible for the deadly attack has prompted great
concern on the highest level. Finland's ambassador to
Kabul has met with senior MFA and MOJ officials there,
and on Nov. 29 President Tarja Halonen summoned the
Afghan Ambassador to Finland (resident in Oslo) to
express her concern about the matter and seek an
explanation. The GoF has also been in close
communication with Norwegian officials, who we
understand sent their MFA's political director to Kabul
to seek answers from the Afghan attorney general.

PRISONER MISTREATMENT AND CORRUPTION
------------------------------------
4. (C) Despite the high-level efforts, however, the GoF
has learned very little from the GoA. According to the
Finnish press, Afghan Ambassador Jawed Ludin told
President Halonen that President Karzai believed that
the men did not receive a fair trial, and pardoned them
on that basis. He assured her that further
investigation, a full report, and possibly a new trial
would follow. However, MFA Undersecretary for Political
Affairs Markus Lyra told DCM and PolChief privately
that, in fact, Ludin's comments to the President were
evasive and occasionally defensive. In effect "he
really didn't address the issue in detail at all," Lyra
reported. Other Finnish officials have met with
similarly unsatisfying Afghan responses. The Finnish
Embassy's formal diplomatic notes seeking a general
explanation have gone unanswered in Kabul, and the MFA
has now provided its Ambassador a series of specific
questions along with instructions to seek meetings with
the attorney general and officials in Karzai's office to
get them answered, Lyra reported. Other Finnish
contacts also told us that the Norwegian Political
Director's meeting with the Afghan attorney general went
very poorly; apparently the AG became quite angry and
ended the meeting abruptly, saying simply that the five
were probably released in accordance with the Afghan
tradition of pardoning some criminals to commemorate the
Eid-al-Fitr holiday.

5. (C) Informally at other levels, Finnish military and
civilian officers in Afghanistan have pieced together a
picture of what they believe really happened. Although
at times contradictory, the information they have
gathered points to probable prisoner mistreatment before
the sentencing and corruption in connection with the
pardon, perhaps even on the highest level. According to
the MFA office director for Central Asia, the seven men
were guilty, as far as the Finns can determine. But
they were also mistreated by police and imprisoned
without a real trial. (The Finns believe a judge may
have simply signed the conviction, and later the order
to commute the sentence from death to 20 years, based on
a recommendation from police.) Most disturbing of all,
he added, money changed hands in connection with the
pardon -- with the clearest indication being that two of
the seven, whose families could not find sufficient
funds, remain imprisoned.

COMMENT
-------
6. (C) GoF officials are not naive about the corruption,
executive interference and other abuses that may be
commonplace within the Afghan judicial system. However,
their search for something resembling a plausible
official answer in this case stems in part from a desire
to ensure that the event does not prompt an outburst of
negative Finnish public opinion toward participation in
the ISAF mission. Finland has been engaged for months
in a vigorous public debate over the question of whether
or not to increase its commitments in Afghanistan -- and
the GoF is deeply divided on the political level (see
reftels). Clearly, the MOD and MFA officials who favor
such increases do not want the arbitrary freeing of a
peacekeeper's killers to become part of the public
debate.
WARE

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