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The performance of the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment in Somalia is being overshadowed by allegations that racism may have played a role in the deaths of four civilians.

The deaths, and charges that some members of the regiment may belong to white supremacist organizations, also have become a political football as national election time draws near.

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Four Somalis have died in Canadian custody in the past three months. In two cases, officers on the spot determined there was no wrongdoing. Investigations have been launched in the other two.

Defense Minister Kim Campbell has ordered an inquiry. The political opposition has seized the issue to attack Ms. Campbell, who is in the midst of a campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party. Opposition politicians accused her of a coverup, of mishandling the situation, and of withholding information.

The military called the racism charges "speculative, unsubstantiated, and inflammatory." The board of inquiry was asked to submit its findings by July 30.

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