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AFGHANISTAN

France hands Afghans control of key province

The French military officially handed over control of the key Afghan province of Kapisa to local forces on Wednesday.

The transfer is an important stage in France’s withdrawal from the war-torn country, which new President Francois Hollande has accelerated by ordering the return of troops by the end of 2012, a year earlier than previously planned.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is due to pull out the vast majority of its 130,000 forces by the end of 2014.

Kapisa, an extremely unstable province where French troops have suffered numerous deadly attacks from the Taliban, lies to the northeast of Kabul close to the border with Pakistan’s lawless and insurgent-infested tribal areas.

In 2011, 24 French soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, all in Kapisa.

A ceremony in the provincial capital Mahmood-e-Raqi in the presence of French and Afghan military and officials, marked the handover of the province, which was announced by President Hamid Karzai in May.

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RUSSIA

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
   
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
   
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
   
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
   
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
 
   
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
   
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
   
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.
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