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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

ARMY

Judges launch probe into French sex abuse troops

Judges in France will investigate claims that French soldiers raped children in the Central African Republic, the state prosecutor announced on Thursday.

Judges launch probe into French sex abuse troops
French peacekeeping soldiers in the Central African Republic have been accused of raping young boys. Photo: AFP
Fourteen soldiers have been placed under investigation, following statements by six children aged between nine and 13 that some were sexually abused by French peacekeepers between December 2013 and June 2014.
 
The announcement came a day after the Central African Republic government said it would launch its own legal action against the French soldiers.
   
"We regret the fact we were not brought into these investigations despite the cooperation agreements we have with France," said Justice Minister Aristide Sokambi.
   
French troops were deployed to the Central African Republic in December 2013 to help African Union peacekeepers restore order after a bout of sectarian bloodletting triggered by a coup.
   
Hundreds of troops were stationed outside the capital Bangui at M'Poko airport, which was transformed into a giant refugee camp.
  
Most of the displaced families living amid the abandoned planes had lost everything in the conflict, which pitted mainly Muslim rebels against vigilantes from the majority Christian population.
   
The defence ministry has said it immediately launched a probe into the rape allegations when they were first received in July, sending police investigators to the former French colony on August 1st.
   
But the damning allegations only became public after The Guardian newspaper broke the story last month.
   
The allegations were first collated in an internal United Nations report and only reached French authorities when it was leaked by a senior UN official.
   
Both the French government and UN have denied trying to cover up the potentially devastating scandal, but the UN official was suspended from his job over the leak.
   
If proven, the allegations will not only affect the French army but also the Central African Republic, which is trying to find a way out of a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 900,000 people.

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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