Australia to investigate soldier’s death


SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – The Australian government said Saturday that it has ordered an investigation into the death of one of its soldiers in Iraq and the bungled repatriation of his body.

The announcement by Defense Minister Brendan Nelson came hours after a casket containing the remains of Private Jake Kovco arrived at Sydney Airport.

Kovco, 25, was the first Australian serviceman to die on duty in Iraq since the U.S.-led war began in 2003. Initial reports said the father of two shot himself while cleaning his gun.

But Nelson said he could not explain the exact circumstances of Kovco’s death, which occurred inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. Nelson said two other soldiers were present but there was no evidence either was involved.

Kovco made “some kind of movement” that caused his pistol to discharge, Nelson said.

He said he had set up a military panel to investigate Kovco’s death and issues including the repatriation.

Kovco’s body arrived in Australia several days later than planned after a mixup at a Kuwait mortuary led to the wrong body being shipped to Australia earlier in the week.

On Saturday, Kovco’s widow, Shelley, wept as eight military pallbearers led by a military chaplain and a lone bagpipe player carried the casket, draped in an Australian flag with a wreath of red flowers on top. About 300 members of his regiment were on hand, wearing parade uniforms and black armbands.

A staunch U.S. ally, Australia maintains about 1,300 troops in Iraq and the Middle East.

AP-ES-04-29-06 0547EDT