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Catholic soldier refuses to fight in Iraq

An US soldier who went missing while on leave after six months' active service in Iraq has pledged not to fight there again.

Independent Catholic News reports that 28 year old Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia told a press conference at the Peace Abbey, in Sherborn, Massachusetts, that he planned to seek conscientious objector status.

Mejia attended last Monday's event wearing a large medal of St Francis carrying a Bible, and accompanied by his parents and relatives.

He said: "I went to Iraq and was an instrument of violence, and now I have decided to become an instrument of peace."

Throughout his tour of duty, he said, he was troubled by the number of Iraqi civilians who were killed by soldiers.

Born in Nicaragua, Mejia came to America when he was 18. He joined the Army in 1995.

Mejia did not report back for duty last October after coming home for two weeks' leave. He turned himself in at Hanscom Air Force base in Concord, after the press conference.

An estimated 600 soldiers are currently classified as AWOL. Mejia is believed to be the first veteran of the Iraq war to seek conscientious objector status.

He said: "When I saw with my own eyes what war can do to people, a real change began to take place within me. I have witnessed the suffering of a people whose country is in ruins and who are further humiliated by the raids, patrols, curfews of an occupying army. My experience of this war has changed me forever.

"I know I have made the right decision, and that God has forgiven me already."

Meanwhile a Florida local newspaper reported yesterday that the US Army is saying his request for conscientious objector status may not be recognised and that he could be charged as a deserter.

The St Augustine Record quotes his former commanding officer Capt. Tad Warfel of Tallahassee as saying Mejia's "just got scared".

"He let down his fellow soldiers, his unit and his country," Warfel said. "The bottom line is that he just lost his nerve. He chickened out."

Catholic soldier refuses to fight in Iraq (Independent Catholic News 19/3/04)

The Peace Abbey | Latest News about Camilo Mejia
New Vatican critique of US war on terror (Catholic World News/Spirit Daily 18/3/04)
Nuncio gives mixed report on post-war Iraq (Catholic World News 19/3/04)
War objector sparks US debate (BBC 17/3/04)
US sergeant repulsed by Iraq war (Aljazeera.Net 17/3/04)
Not in our name: Support Sgt. Camilo Mejia! | Sgt. Camilo Mejia's statement to the media and supporters [MP3 audio]
Officer disputes account of soldier opposing war (St Augustine Record 21/3/04)
New Vatican critique of US war on terror (Catholic World News 18/3/04)

22 Mar 2004