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Australia clears soldiers over US death in Iraq

world Updated: Jun 07, 2007 10:12 IST

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Australian soldiers, who shot and killed a US civilian truck driver at a checkpoint in Iraq, have been cleared of any wrongdoing, the army said on Thursday.

An Australian Defence Force (ADF) investigation found they had acted within the law and the rules of engagement when they opened fire after the contractor failed to stop, Brigadier Gus Gilmore said.

The dead man, Hector Patino, 58, was a decorated Vietnam war veteran working for the US company Kellogg Brown and Root.

Gilmore said that despite clear signs and repeated requests for Patino to stop at the checkpoint near the Australian embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone on January 13, he drove on.

Soldiers, concerned that he could be a car bomber, opened fire, he said.

"The key findings of the ADF investigation found that the soldiers involved acted lawfully, entirely in accordance with their orders and their rules of engagement," Gilmore said.

"Despite clear signage, physical control measures and repeated requests by Australian security detachment staff for the vehicle to stop, the vehicle continued to move forward towards security staff, showing no intention of stopping.

"The approach of the truck and the actions of the driver were interpreted by the military personnel involved as an imminent threat to life. In these circumstances their actions were appropriate."

An independent investigation conducted by the US Diplomatic Security Service concluded Patino's actions contributed to the shooting, Gilmore said.

The contractor's family had written to Prime Minister John Howard in March, asking for information about the shooting and would be informed of the findings.

"On behalf of the chief of the defence force I would again like to extend our condolences to the Patino family," he said.

Howard is a close ally of US President George W Bush and has a small contingent of soldiers deployed with the US-led coalition in Iraq.