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French soldiers ‘ordered’ to kill Ivorian, court hears

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2012-12-06

Four former French soldiers say they were acting under orders when they killed a wounded prisoner in Ivory Coast in 2005. Firmin Mahe was suffocated with a plastic bag as he was being transferred in a military vehicle.

Four former French soldiers accused of murdering a man during a peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast in 2005 are due to hear a court’s verdict on Friday.

The men, who admit involvement in killing Firmin Mahe, say they were acting under orders.

Prosecutors on Thursday called for prison terms of between two and five years for the former soldiers, saying that even if they were following orders, “It is a soldier’s duty to disobey illegal commands.”

The French military insists Mahe was a murderer and a rapist who was terrorising civilians in the UN-occupied safe zone.

Mahe’s death in May 2005 led to the sacking of General Henri Poncet, commander of the French mission in Ivory Coast. He was given an official reprimand for a suspected cover-up in the case, but is not on trial.

The four accused all say that orders, both implicit and explicit, had come down the chain of command for Mahe to be killed as he was being transferred in a French military vehicle.

The four accused include the vehicle’s driver, 32-year-old ex-corporal Lianrifou Ben Youssouf and ex-corporal Johannes Schnier, 35, who is charged with helping former sergeant-major Guy Raugel, 48, suffocate Mahe with a plastic bag.

Raugel says he carried out the killing following a direct order from former Colonel Eric Burgaud, 50.

‘Drive slowly, do you understand me?’

Burgaud, who admits giving the order, says that he was told by General Poncet: “Drive slowly. Do you understand me?”

Burgaud told the court: “I understood what he said the same as everyone else, that is, that it would have been best if Mahe arrived dead.”

Mahe was arrested near the western town of Bangolo after being wounded in the leg in a firefight with French soldiers.

He was taken to a hospital, then ordered to be driven to the city of Man by General Poncet, a journey he did not survive.

Poncet, who is not on trial, denied ordering Mahe’s death.

“I never made that statement,” he told the Paris court on Monday. “Colonel Burgaud must have suffered a moral collapse because of the stress of the mission, the chaos of the circumstances and out of empathy for the local population.

“This can happen sometimes when one is confronted with abhorrent and barbaric circumstances.”

‘Taking orders from a psychiatrist’

Burgaud was then called to respond to his former commanding officer’s statement.

“I didn’t know I was taking orders from a psychiatrist,” he told the court. “I was under the impression that Poncet was my boss, my leader. I can see now that this was not the case.

“I repeat before the court that General Poncet gave me the order. I take full responsibility for transmitting that order, unlike Poncet who is refusing to take his.”

French peacekeepers were deployed to the former French colony after it was split between the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south following a failed coup attempt in 2002.

The subject of frequent and bitter disputes between France and former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, the mission was attacked in 2004, resulting in the deaths of nine French soldiers.

France later retaliated by wiping out the entire Ivorian air force.

French peacekeepers played a key role in toppling Gbagbo in 2011.

Date created : 2012-12-06

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