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WAR

Investigators visit French site of Nazi massacre

German investigators on Tuesday gathered in the ruined French hamlet of Oradour-sur-Glane to collect evidence in a re-opened case probing the Nazi massacre that wiped out almost the whole village seven decades ago.

Investigators visit French site of Nazi massacre
A plaque at the entrance to the destroyed French village of Oradour-sur-Glane asks visitors never to forget the massacre that took place there. Photo: Alejandro Mallea

Only six people survived in the June 10, 1944 massacre, in which 642 people – mainly women and children – were killed.

A statement from the state prosecutor's office in Limoges, in western-central France, said that under the label of war crimes "German judicial authorities, acting to assist in international legal proceedings, visited the scene this morning." They were accompanied by German prosecutor Andreas Brendel, it added.

Four days after the Normandy landings that marked the start of the liberation of France and Europe from Nazi occupation, Oradour was destroyed by a detachment of SS troops for reasons that have never been made clear.

Although several probes have previously been opened into the massacre, they have all been shut down due to a lack of evidence.

But when a historian in 2010 discovered documents implicating six suspects, still alive and now aged between 85 and 86, the case was reopened.

The documents were found in files kept by the Stasi, former East Germany's feared and hated secret police.

The suspects, aged 18 and 19 at the time, allegedly ordered the town's inhabitants, including 247 children, to assemble in the village square.

Women and children were then herded into the church which was pumped full of toxic gas and set on fire. The men were machine-gunned and burned alive in a barn. The entire village was then torched, never to be rebuilt.

In France, the slaughter, which left only six survivors, has come to symbolise the worst of Nazi barbarity and the village has been left as it was as a memorial.

Brendel told AFP that investigators on Tuesday tried to find "supplementary evidence" on site, "to see where the different units were deployed in Oradour" and to hear new witnesses.

Some 60 soldiers were brought to trial in France over the massacre in the 1950s, and 20 of them convicted, but all were released within a few years.

Brendel suggested he hopes a new legal process will be opened in Germany before the end of this year.

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WAR

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.

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