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Army officer who threatened journalist recalled from Togo

France on Friday recalled a senior military officer from Togo to France and temporarily confined him to quarters for "bringing the French army into disrepute" after video footage showing him threatening a Togolese journalist was posted online.


AFP - France confined a senior military officer to quarters for 10 days on Friday after video footage appeared online showing him threatening a Togolese press photographer in Lome.

Lieutenant Colonel Romuald Letondot has been recalled from Togo to France and punished for "bringing the French army into disrepute", foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages told reporters.

Letondot has apologised to journalist Didier Ledoux, who works for the Togolese weekly Liberte, but the video has been viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube and the scandal has tarnished France's image in Africa.

The officer, who was employed by the French foreign ministry as an advisor to the Togolese military, is seen telling Ledoux to erase pictures from his camera and ordering Togolese riot police to arrest him.

"Do you want someone to strike your camera, or what?" he demands, using the patronising "tu" form of address. "I don't give a damn if you're press, erase the photo please, otherwise I'll take the camera myself.

"Do you know who I am? I'm an adviser to the chief of staff of land forces," he declares, threatening to summon the Togolese president's commando guard force "to bloody well restore some order round here."

When the journalist protests he was just doing his job, the French officer turns to one of a number of uniformed Togolese riot police at the scene and, still using the insulting "tu" form, barks: "You, put him in jail."

France's West African colonies were given independence 50 years ago, but Paris has maintained close diplomatic, military and commercial ties with many of them and is often accused of adopting a high-handed attitude.

The Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned the colonel's attitude which it said reflected a too common "lack of respect and understanding of the work of the press."

The argument erupted after the French officer's vehicle was held up during an opposition protest in the streets of Lome and Ledoux took his picture.

Letondot told France 2 public television that he had got out of his official car to show a Togolese policeman that it had been damaged by a stone-throwing demonstrator and was surprised to be photographed.

"The photo could have been misinterpreted," he said. "I became annoyed. The idea was to prevent a stolen picture. I have apologised to Didier Ledoux. It's a shame that my time in Togo has to finish like this."

Ledoux, told AFP on Friday that he had decided to seek judicial redress against Letondot.

"What I know is that I will file a suit against him in the court," he said.

Ledoux said he was "shocked" at a claim by Letondot that he was "rather the victim in the affair," alleging in an interview carried Thursday on the Internet site of the French weekly L'Express that he had been "set up."

"I am very angry at the officer because his attitude greatly surprised me. It is not what he said at the embassy that I found in the interview," he said, slamming what he called the "hypocrisy" of the colonel.

The Paris-based global media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned Letondot's attitude, which it said reflected a too common "lack of respect and understanding of the work of the press."


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