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German troops honored for bravery, 1st since WWII

world Updated: Jul 06, 2009 17:19 IST
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Chancellor Angela Merkel presented four German soldiers with a new decoration for bravery on Monday, the nation's first such honor since World War II.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, who will join Merkel at the chancellery on Monday for the ceremony, introduced the Cross of Honor for Bravery last year as the German military's role in the world expands and more soldiers are in the line of fire in global hot spots.

The new medal features a golden Maltese cross with a German eagle in the center, held on a ribbon with the colors of the German flag _ black, red and gold _ with double oak leaves.

It is the military's first medal for bravery since it stopped awarding the Iron Cross - first issued in 1813 but used so frequently by the Nazis that it become inexorably linked with Hitler's regime.

It is another sign of Germany emerging from its post-WWII diplomatic and military shell since the country's reunification in 1990.

In 1992, Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl broke a taboo against sending troops abroad by deploying military medics to support the U.N. mission in Cambodia.

Today, the country has some 7,200 troops serving abroad, including 3,830 in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and more than 2,000 in Kosovo. Smaller contingents are deployed in Bosnia, in naval patrols off Lebanon and the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere.

Ulrich Kirsch, leader of a union representing German soldiers, told television broadcaster ARD that the medal is a fitting recognition of the military's increasing role.

"The soldiers are so close to death and injury - that's not the situation in other jobs," Kirsch said. "We consider this honor absolutely appropriate," he added.

The new order is an extension of the Bundeswehr's current range of four decorations, which are given for "loyal services and in appreciation of exemplary soldierly acquittal of duty."

Merkel's office has given no details on the soldiers receiving the award, but, according to German media reports, the four are being honored for their efforts to help fellow soldiers after a 2008 suicide attack in Afghanistan.