As German peacekeepers were departing for Somalia, Chancellor Helmut Kohl paid the troops a symbolic visit Wednesday and told them that even on humanitarian missions, soldiers must expect to risk their lives.
Opposition politicians say Kohl's decision to send 1,700 soldiers to Somalia, where U.N. troops are fighting renegade militiamen almost daily, is an ill-advised attempt to improve Germany's image.
They say the East African country has simply become too dangerous for German troops, whose mission is supposed to be strictly humanitarian.
Four Americans have been wounded this week in Somalia, the Pentagon said. A Navy lieutenant and an American civilian were wounded by sniper fire in Mogadishu on Tuesday, and two Army military policemen were slightly wounded by snipers in the Somali capital Monday.
Kohl got a warm reception, complete with a "Good day, Mr. Chancellor!" shouted in unison by 30 saluting soldiers at what used to be East Germany's military headquarters.
"Germany must grow step by step into new international responsibilities," he told commanders of Germany's eastern forces at the base in this former seat of Prussian kings just outside Berlin.
The 250 German soldiers arriving in Somalia this week are to join about 250 fellow German troops based in Belet Huen, 180 miles from Mogadishu, the capital, where 35 U.N. peacekeepers have died since early June in fighting with Somali militiamen.
The rest of the German troops are to arrive in August in what is the first overseas deployment of the German military since World War II.
Meanwhile, U.N. relief head Jan Eliasson complained Wednesday that U.N. members are spending at least 10 times as much on their military operation in Somalia as on aid.
In a rare criticism of the U.N. operation by a high-ranking U.N. official, Eliasson said there is a danger that the original aim of sending troops to Somalia--to protect aid--will be forgotten.
U.N. Force in Somalia (Southland Edition)
Since early June, 35 U.N. peacekeepers have died in fighting in Somalia. Here's a breakdown of the force, including the Germans just committed to the operation. Pakistan: 4,718 soldiers (21%) U.S.: 3,881 soldiers (17%) Italy: 2,442 soldiers (11%) Germany: 1,700 soldiers (8%) Others: 9,813 soldiers (44%) Total U.N. forces: 22,554 soldiers Source: La Repubblica, Rome