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ARMY

France extends CAR mission amid threats

French MPs gave their approval on Tuesday to an extension of the country's military operation in the Central African Republic as the UN warned of a potential new bloodbath in the troubled African state.

France extends CAR mission amid threats
French MPs voted to extend their CAR mission on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Despite misgivings among some that French troops have been put into an uncontrollable situation in the former colony, deputies in the National Assembly voted 428-14 (with 21 abstentions) in favour of authorising the mission, which was launched in early December, to continue beyond April.

The approval had been anticipated with deputies almost unanimously agreeing that, whatever their reservations, pulling out the 2,000 French troops now in the CAR was not a viable option.

It came as the UN's refugee body said more than 15,000 people were surrounded and under threat of armed attack in locations in the northwest and southwest of the country.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva that the vulnerable – mainly members of the minority Muslim community – were "at very high risk of attack" and urgently needed better security in the form of more international peacekeepers.

Although the situation in CAR remains extremely volatile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday it would have been a lot worse if France had not intervened.

"If the Sangaris Operation had not been launched, the CAR would today be in a genocide situation," Fabius said on France 2 television ahead of the vote in the National Assembly. "The French were right to intervene."

French troops are supported by a 6,000-strong African Union force known as MISCA and France is pushing hard for the international forces to be transformed into an official UN peacekeeping force.

Paris is also lobbying its European partners to provide more financial and logistical help, with limited results so far.

The European Union has pledged to deploy up to 1,000 troops but negotiations on which countries will provide them are dragging on in Brussels and it remained unclear Tuesday when any of them would arrive in the CAR.

The UNHCR's Edwards said a much bigger force was needed to halt the cycle of violence.

"Their numbers are far too low considering the size of the country and the scope of the crisis," he said.

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ARMY

French army officers convicted after recruit died during initial ritual

A French court on Thursday gave suspended jail terms to three soldiers convicted over the death by drowning of a trainee officer during an initiation ritual at the country's most prestigious military academy.

French army officers convicted after recruit died during initial ritual
The three officers in the dock. Photo: AFP

Jallal Hami, 24, drowned overnight on October 29th, 2012, while crossing a swamp as part of an exercise meant to teach the Saint-Cyr officer school's traditions to new recruits.

A total of seven soldiers, including a general, were tried for manslaughter.

A court in Rennes, a city in France's western Brittany region near the Saint-Cyr academy, sentenced an army captain, a commanding officer and a soldier who has since left the military to suspended terms of between six and eight months.

Four other defendants, including the general who was in charge of training at Saint-Cyr at the time, were cleared of the charges.

Hami's brother Rachid, who had accused the second-year students behind the hazing ritual of running amok, reacted angrily to the verdict.

“You have betrayed my brother once again,” he said.

The victim's brother Rachid Hami, speaking outside the court. Photo: AFP

On the night of Hami's death, new recruits were told to swim across a swamp for 43 metres, weighed down by their helmets in 9C water.

The exercise was meant to simulate a beach landing.

To the strains of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries – famously used in the war movie Apocalypse Now – the recruits jumped into the cold water. Several quickly struggled and went under, gasping for air and clutching at others.

Organisers threw them lifebelts to help them out but it was too late for Jallal Hami, who was reported missing.

Firefighters, alerted an hour later, found his body at 2:35 am near the bank of the swamp.

During the trial the state prosecutor blasted the “madness” of an initiation ritual fuelled by “uncontrolled testosterone” and asked the court to give six of the defendants suspended terms of up to two years.

The prosecutor had however called for General Francis Chanson's acquittal.

Chanson's lawyer William Pineau had said that while the events were “tragic”, his client could not be held criminally responsible “because he did not know what really went on on the ground”.

Jallal Hami came to France in 1992 with his mother and brothers to escape Algeria's civil war.

Hami had for years dreamed of being admitted to Saint-Cyr, which was founded in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

His qualifications – Hami had earned a diploma from elite university Sciences Po, studied Mandarin and excelled at sports – allowed him to enter the officer school directly as a third-year trainee.

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