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Australia wants to reopen Boer War case

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CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The Australian government wants Britain to reopen the case of three Australians convicted of war crimes during the Boer War, officials said Thursday.

Capt. Harry "Breaker" Morant and Lt. Peter Handcock were executed by firing squad in South Africa in 1902, while Lt. George Witton was sentenced to life and served about three years. The 1980 film "Breaker Morant" revived interest in the case.

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Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland said the convictions should be re-examined because of "procedural fairness concerns," arising from new evidence of orders to take no prisoners, The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph reported. He said he will request the review in a letter to the British defense secretary.

An Australian lawyer discovered a letter in British archives last year from one of the Army's top legal officers in 1901 about the "no prisoners" order. Col. James St. Clair suggested the person primarily responsible for the shooting of Boer prisoners carried out by the Australians was the man who had given the order, Capt. Alfred Taylor, an intelligence officer on Field Marshal Herbert Lord Kitchener's staff.

RELATED No pardon for Breaker Morant

A lobbying group, the Australian Defense Association, urged McClelland not to take any action.

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"Our basic view is it is very dangerous for modern-day activists to agitate for change without knowing exactly the historical circumstances of the time when decisions were made," the group's president, Neil James, told The Australian.

Last November, British officials said there would be no pardon of Morant because there was no new evidence warranting one. An Australian military lawyer, Cmdr. James Unkles, had petitioned the queen for a royal pardon for Morant, citing the secrecy that enshrouded the trial of the three men.

RELATED Queen asked to pardon Breaker Morant

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