France honours 7 troops killed in Afghanistan

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday attended a remembrance ceremony for seven French soldiers killed in Afghanistan last week, including five who died in the deadliest attack on French forces since 2008.

Comrades carried the seven coffins draped with the French tricolour flag into the church under Les Invalides military hospital’s famous golden dome for a religious ceremony after they arrived in Paris on Monday evening.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, MPs from across the political spectrum and the military top brass attended, with firemen turning out under driving rain and unseasonally cold weather to pay homage as the cortege drove past.

“You did not die for nothing. Because you sacrificed yourselves for a great cause. You defended our country’s most beautiful values,” Sarkozy said at Les Invalides, where Napoleon is buried.

The soldiers were killed in three separate incidents over four days in Kapisa province, around 60 kilometres northeast of Kabul.

Five soldiers, aged 27 to 38, died along with an Afghan civilian in a suicide attack on July 13, the worst loss of life for French forces since August 2008, when 10 soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush east of Kabul.

A French navy commando was killed by insurgents on July 14 during an operation alongside Afghan police in Kapisa, while another soldier lost his life in a friendly fire incident.

That brought to 70 the number of French soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001, when they deployed to support the US-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban regime and hunt Al-Qaeda militants.

Around 4,000 French troops are serving in Afghanistan, most in Kapisa, and Sarkozy has said all will be withdrawn by 2014.

The deaths came during the week that France celebrated its national Bastille Day, notably with a military parade on July 14.

Even before the latest bloodshed, opinion polls showed that barely a quarter of voters backed France’s role in the conflict.

While Sarkozy insists that no French “combat units” will remain there after 2014, his likely rivals in next year’s presidential election are now urging him to speed up the withdrawal of French forces.

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French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron

French forces "tortured and murdered" Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country's war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted on Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron
Malika, the widow of Ali Boumendjel, pictured in 2001. Photo: Stefan Fferberg/AFP

Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.

The move comes after Macron in January refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria – instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.

Atrocities committed by both sides during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence continue to strain relations between the countries.

Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.

It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.

In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.

It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.

Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.

The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”

During his 2017 election campaign, Macron – the first president born after the colonial period – declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

He has since said there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for abuses committed in the North African country.