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CRIME

Boy, 8, left for dead after ‘exorcism’ by family

An eight-year-old boy was left for dead in a hotel carpark, after his father and aunt attempted an exorcism on him, believing he was possessed by evil spirits, a court on the outskirts of Paris heard this week.

Boy, 8, left for dead after 'exorcism' by family
FIle photo: Mike Fitzsimon

The boy, who was born in Cameroon, was found “cold, frightened and covered in bruises” by a warden at the carpark of a hotel in Yvelines, west of Paris, in the early hours of Saturday morning, French daily Le Parisien reported.

Both the boy’s father, aged 33, and aunt, aged 24, have admitted to beating the child. His aunt told local family division police investigators they attacked the boy and abandoned him because, "he was bewitched”, according to a source quoted by France 3 TV.

The boy himself told investigators that he had suffered physical abuse by his aunt since she arrived from Cameroon at the end of February. The woman had become suspicious of her nephew, and wanted to rid him of “evil spirits”, before baptizing him.

“He was forced to hold out his arms and tilt his head back,” said one police officer. “While his aunt beat him with a bat, his father whipped him with a belt,” the officer told France 3.

The eight-year-old’s mother was reported to have disagreed with the attempted exorcism, but did nothing to prevent the attacks.

The father and aunt were charged on Monday with “acts of violence” and “abandonment of a minor”. The boy himself has been placed with a foster family.

In recent years, Cameroon – where 'practising witchcraft' is outlawed – has experienced an increase in cases of children being violently assaulted and even executed after accusations of demonic possession, according to a 2010 UNICEF report

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WILDFIRES

French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

On the ground, two officers from a special mobile brigade of France's paramilitary gendarmerie speed along a forest track.

French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

Above them, a helicopter scans the landscape to warn them of any fires or anyone who might be looking to start one.

These are the members of a newly created police team who have just started patrolling in southwest France to seek out and arrest the fire-starters devastating the region’s forests.

In the last week, no less than 20 fires have broken out in the forest bordering the seaside resort of Soulac-sur-Mer in the La Gironde department of southwest France, says the local gendarmerie.

While some have burned for just a 100 square metres (322 square feet), the largest devoured 30 hectares (74 acres) of forest.

Scorched trees and charred trunks line the paths and cycle paths that criss-cross the woods.

To stop the devastation, local officials have sent in the new unit, the Forest Vigilance Platoon (PVF) made up of 15 reservist gendarmes, a senior police officer and two motorcyclists from the mobile brigade, backed up by the
helicopter.

Spread across three zones, the PVF patrol the forest on motorbikes, all-terrain bicycles or in cars, where possible, on the hunt for fire-starters.

Set up just last week they started patrolling on Thursday.

The idea is that the PVF will free up firefighters who have been stretched thin battling blazes that since Tuesday have burned up 7,400 hectares of pine forests at the southern end of Gironde.

“After the major fires in July, we observed a rise in the number of arson cases,” said Martin Guespereau, deputy prefect for defence and security in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which covers the Gironde.

“There are around twenty fires of unknown origin a day in Gironde.”

¬†According to France’s National Forests Office (ONF) nine out of 10 fires were started by people — and three out of 10 were started deliberately.

Forest off-limits

“The Forest Vigilance Platoon is a support division, whose aim is to prevent, detect and possible to arrest,” said Captain Christophe Roque, who was given the job of putting the team together.

Red-and-white signs at the edge of the Soulac-sur-Mer forest inform walkers that due to the “very severe” risk of fire, the forest is off-limits to the public until further notice — and has been since August 11.

A few cyclists were nevertheless out on the trails on Saturday, and were quickly intercepted by the gendarmes of the PVF.

“As soon as we come across someone, we get their identity,” said one member of the team, Bruno Kechtoff. “Because if we come across the same person several times, then that becomes suspicious.”

A message comes over the radio: two outbreaks of fire barely 500 metres (yards) apart, near Bazas, south of Bordeaux, the regional capital. A local has reported seeing someone on a moped wearing “yellow-trimmed” trousers”.

The LVF’s helicopter veers off towards Bazas, 130 kilometres away (80 miles) away.

Where they are sent next depends on where the next fires break out, says Constable Jeremy Hernandez. “We have been called here urgently but we can move if other areas are concerned.”

Then they are in their car and driving off, siren wailing, on the look-out for a quad reported in the woods.

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