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ARMY

Four die as French army-chartered plane crashes off Ivory Coast

Four Moldovan nationals were killed on Saturday when a transport plane chartered by the French army crashed off Ivory Coast, firefighters said.

Four die as French army-chartered plane crashes off Ivory Coast
The wreckage of a plane that crashed off Ivory Coast on Saturday. Photo: Sia Kambou/AFP

Another six people were injured in the crash of the Antonov aircraft which had 10 people on board, firefighter Colonel Issa Sakho told local television.

Four French nationals were among the injured, a French military source said, indicating that the plane had been chartered as part of the anti-jihadist Operation Barkhane.

“There were 10 people on board, Moldovans and French people. The four victims who died are Moldovan nationals,” Sakho said.

The plane had taken off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and crash-landed in the sea near Abidjan, breaking in half, he explained.

Local forces were hoping to secure the wreck before it drifted away “so investigators can do their job”, he said.

A French military source said the Antonov was chartered as part of Barkhane, under which France maintains a 4,000-man mission in the region.

The operation aims to shore up fragile Sahel countries against jihadists who have carried out a wave of bloody bombings, shootings and kidnappings.

Cause of crash unclear

The French military base in Abidjan provides logistical support for the operation which is headquartered in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad. French special forces are stationed in Ouagadougou.

Every year, around 100 sorties are flown out of Abidjan airport as part of Barkhane, often by former Soviet army pilots in Ukrainian-made Antonovs.

The planes frequently carry French military personnel and sub-contractors accompanying their cargo.

There was a heavy storm over Abidjan early Saturday, but it was unclear whether the heavy weather was the cause of the accident.

France keeps around 950 military personnel in Ivory Coast as part of the FFCI force based in the biggest French army base on Africa's Atlantic coast. Other bases are in Libreville, Gabon and Dakar, Senegal.

One of their key missions is to extract French or other western civilians in case of trouble in Ivory Coast or neighbouring countries.

Abidjan is strategically well-placed in the region as most French-speaking African countries can be reached by air in under three hours.

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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