Friday, April 28, 2006

australian military sends home wrong body ...

Family devastated: an investigation will start next week into the mix-up (Department of Defence)
April 27, 2006, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Kovco's family demands answers

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has further angered the family of dead Australian soldier Jake Kovco with comments about the manner of the Private's death in Iraq last week.

The family is today dealing with a mix-up in which Private Kovco's body was mistakenly left in Kuwait, with the coffin that arrived in Melbourne this morning containing another body.

Dr Nelson has previously said Private Kovco was maintaining his weapon when it discharged, killing him, but today he told Macquarie radio that is not the case.

"He wasn't in fact cleaning his weapon," he said.

"There was obviously a live round in it which there should not have been."

His comments have angered Private Kovco's mother Judy.

"He didn't shoot himself. The gun went off," she said.

She says she was devastated by the mix-up, and describes her son's death as a nightmare.

Dr Nelson has told channel Nine that his initial comments about the death were based on advice provided to him.

"The early report that I had received was that Private Kovco was in a room with two of his mates, and somehow or other I was first advised that he may have been handling his weapon and for some reason it had discharged accidentally and we had this tragic outcome," he said.

"It now seems that perhaps he might not have been actually handling the weapon but that it was very close to him."

Looking for answers

Private Kovco's step-brother, Benn Kovco, says the family is looking for answers and feel that they have been lied to from the beginning.

"We've been kept in the dark and that's the most insulting thing," he said.

"We can handle the truth and it shouldn't be kept from us, we need to have the truth in this."

The president of the New South Wales RSL, Don Rowe, says the Kovco family deserves to know the proper version of events.

"We continue to get conflicts of what went wrong and what didn't go wrong ... and look we've got to expect and be told the truth and be told honestly what happened," he said.

"The family deserves that and the nation deserves that as well."

The Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says Dr Nelson should not be commenting on the matter.

"There is a huge risk here of hurtful things being put about the place, just making the life of the family more of an agony," he said.

Investigation under way

The Prime Minister John Howard has personally apologised to Private Kovco's widow.

And the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Angus Houston, says the force deeply regrets the mistake.

"I'd like to start by expressing my deep sorrow for the unacceptable circumstances that have happened in the last 24 hours," he said.

"I'm particularly concerned that we have inadvertently given a lot more sorrow to the family than would normally be the case."

He says a formal investigation will start next week into why Private Kovco's body was mistakenly left behind in Kuwait.

The Australian Defence Force inquiry will be headed by a senior officer and a civilian pathologist.

A separate investigation is under way into how Private Kovco died.

Bungled operation

The company responsible for Private Kovco's repatriation, Kenyon International, says it cannot take responsibility for the bungled operation until all the facts are known.

Kenyon spokesman Mario Gomez says the company's focus is on getting Private Kovco's body back to Australia.

"Our focus is to reunite the soldier with his family and try to help them begin the grieving and healing process," he said.

Mr Beazley says the mix-up must never happen again.

"The handling of the remains of Private Kovco should have been with the Australian military," he said.