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10 Nov, 2009 19:30

Czech officers caught wearing Nazi symbols in Afghanistan – report

Two commanders of the Czech rapid reaction brigade are facing disciplinary actions after reports surfaced that they had Nazi symbols on their helmets during their deployment in Afghanistan.

The news, which caused quite a stir among the country’s armed forces, came from the Mlada fronta Dnes daily.

According to the paper, soldiers Hynek Matonoha and Jan Cermak wore the symbols of the 9th SS panzer division Hohenstaufen and the SS Dirlewanger brigade respectively, which were probably the most infamous SS combat units of World War Two.

Cermak said he used the SS symbol simply because it consists of a sword and an "H", the first letter of his name Honza, which is the colloquial form of Jan.

"It was just a joke and I am very sorry about it," Cermak told MfD, adding that he didn’t know it was a Nazi symbol.

But specialist in extremism, Michal Mazel, doesn’t believe such an excuse.

"He is an elite troop who graduated from university, he is no teenager. The SS symbols on their helmets show a totally perverse view of the world of the NATO military's elite troops," Mazel said.

Meanwhile, Matonoha failed to offer any excuse for his actions.

Unaware of the men’s helmets, Czech Defense Minister Martin Bartak and chief-of-staff Vlastimil Picek decorated them for bravery on Friday after their return from Afghanistan.

However, the story was made public after Czech police serving in Afghanistan reported the case.

Both soldiers were immediately suspended. Defense Minister Bartak said the soldiers’ alleged actions were ``unacceptable''. Officials say the soldiers' commander was also suspended for reportedly trying to hush up the case.

Petr Prochazka, the commander of the Czech contingent in Logar, Afghanistan, ordered that the controversial covers of the helmets, as well as any photographs showing them, be burnt, but failed to punish the perpetrators.

The case with the soldiers is nothing new for the Czech Republic, said Ivona Novomestska, a spokesperson for the anti-violence movement.

“There were several attacks on Roma and other communities in recent years, and these problems in our army of course shocked all Czech people,” she said.

It is the second recent scandal involving the Czech military.

Last week it turned out that a professional Czech soldier, Lukas Sedlacek, is a member of a neo-Nazi group that was planning to attack and kidnap high-ranking officials of Jewish origin. When the information surfaced, the man was immediately removed from the army.

“The main question I’m worried about is that this kind of sentiment is growing, and in some places in Europe these kinds of ideas are very much encouraged by the government,” he told RT.

Meanwhile, German government consultant Christopher Hoersel believes the soldiers were protesting government policies they felt forced them to commit crimes similar to those made by Hitler's soldiers during World War II.