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France

Several African soldiers in July 14 parade 'could be war criminals'

Text by Guillaume GUGUEN

Latest update : 2010-07-14

Soldiers from 13 former French African colonies will march down the Champs Elysées in Paris on July 14 as part of France’s Bastille Day celebrations. However, human rights groups are concerned that some of the soldiers involved may be war criminals.

 It is meant to be a gesture to celebrate 50 years’ independence for France’s former African colonies. Soldiers from 13 African countries will march down the Champs Elysées on July 14 as part of France’s traditional “Bastille Day” parade.

Human rights groups, however, fear that some of these troops may be war criminals, and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) has called on the French authorities to publish the names of the soldiers taking part.
 
In an open letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the FIDH said it was “gravely concerned that some countries’ contingents … may include individuals responsible for serious human rights violations.”
 
Thimonier Olivier, head of “Survie” (Survival), which lobbies for the redrawing of the French-African relationship, said he was upset by the possibility that “troops who may have committed serious crimes in their own countries could come to France to celebrate a date which is a symbol of freedom”.
 
Survie is particularly concerned about the Chadian contingent, pointing to a counter-insurgency operation mounted by its army in February 2008 which “organised the kidnapping of opposition figure Oumar Mahamat Saleh”.
 
Last week a group of African and French NGOs also alerted the French authorities to the possible presence of Congo-Brazzaville General Noel Leonard Essongo, a former member of the country’s “Cobra” militia who is suspected of war crimes during the country’s 1997 civil war.
 
France and Africa – return to the ‘ancien regime’?
 
France’s opposition parties have also denounced what they view as a resurgence of the old “special relationship” between France and its former African colonies, known as “Françafrique”, a term synonymous with exploitation and ignoring human rights abuses.
 
The Françafrique approach, they argue, does little or nothing to encourage the development of democracy in these countries, while responsibility for managing the relationship seems to have fallen directly into the hands of the French president.
 
François Hollande, former leader of the opposition Socialist Party, said: “We’re back in the politics of networks, of displays of collusion.”
 
Pointing out that France’s Minister for Cooperation [effectively for Africa] Alain Joyandet was recently sacked and not replaced, he added: “What’s worse is that France’s African policy is now completely in the hands of the Elysée Palace and the president’s immediate entourage, particularly Claude Guéant, Sarkozy’s executive officer at the Elysée, who seems to have become Africa Minister.”
 
A break with the past?
 
The Elysée Palace, however, insists that France has made a clean break with old policies.
 
"Some people have criticized the invitation I made to participate in the July 14 parade,” Sarkozy said to leaders of 12 of the 14 former French colonies who were invited to a lunch the day before the parade.
 
"The purpose of this gathering is not to celebrate your independence, you do it very well yourselves. But it is to celebrate the strong ties that history has forged between our peoples and to build for a better future.”
 
Sarkozy also announced that all former colonial combatants (about 30,000) who served France in past conflicts will receive pensions in line with their French counterparts, no matter where they live.

Date created : 2010-07-13

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