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SYRIA

French-Swiss cement maker made ‘unacceptable errors’ in Syria, says chairman

The Swiss-French cement company LafargeHolcim should have stopped its operations in war-torn Syria before it did, its chairman said in an interview published Sunday, after three executives were charged with indirectly financing jihadists.

French-Swiss cement maker made 'unacceptable errors' in Syria, says chairman
Photo: AFP
Beat Hess told French daily Le Figaro that the group was going through “a difficult phase” that was “a problem for the company's reputation”.
   
Lafarge is accused of paying the Islamic State group and other militants through a middleman in order to allow the company's factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria, to continue to operate.
   
It is also suspected of using fake consulting contracts to buy fuel from the Islamic State group, which took control of most of Syria's strategic oil reserves in June 2013.
 
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Top officials at French-Swiss cement maker charged with financing jihadists
The Lafarge headquarters in Paris. Photo: AFP
 
“Unacceptable errors were made which the company regrets and condemns,” Hess said, adding that Lafarge “probably pulled out of Syria too late”.
   
Frederic Jolibois, who took over as manager of the Syria factory in 2014, has been charged with financing terrorism and violating an EU embargo on Syrian oil.
   
Bruno Pescheux, Jolibois' predecessor as factory chief between 2008 and 2014, and Lafarge security boss Jean-Claude Veillard were also charged with financing terrorism as well as “endangering others' lives”.
   
Hess, who became chairman of the company in May 2016, said that he had “full confidence” in the French legal system, and that “if we can help, we will do so”.

JIHADISTS

French families sue government over children of jihadists stuck in Syria

The families of several children and wives of French jihadist fighters in Syria have filed lawsuits against France's top diplomat over his refusal to let them come to France.

French families sue government over children of jihadists stuck in Syria
Two detained French women who fled the Islamic State group's last pocket in Syria sit with their children . AFP

The suits, filed in July and September, accuse Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of “failing to provide aid” to people in “danger” at camps operated by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria.

The complaints were filed with the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), which hears cases over alleged misconduct by former or serving ministers.

It is the latest legal challenge to France's longstanding opposition to allowing the children and wives of suspected jihadists in Syria or Iraq to return home.

The government, which says it considers requests on a case-by-case basis only, has brought back just 17 children since March, many of them orphans.

Critics say the policy exposes innocent victims of the war, many of whom have suffered serious trauma during the fighting and coalition bombardments, to long-term psychological risks.

“The policy of 'case by case' keeps more than 200 children and their mothers exposed to inhumane and degrading treatment, and at risk of death,” the lawyers said

They note that Kurdish officials are also pressing European governments to repatriate citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria, as well as their family members.

“It's a political choice not to save these children and mothers being held arbitrarily,” one of the lawyers, Marie Dose, told AFP.

Asked about the lawsuit, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a statement that France remained “fully mobilised so that each situation is handled with the children's interests in mind.”

“Our priority is to ensure the return of the most vulnerable orphan or isolated children,” she added.

A similar lawsuit was filed against France last May at the European Court of Human Rights, by the grandparents of two children stranded with their French jihadist mother in Syria.

The boy and girl, who were born in Syria, are among an estimated 500 children of French citizens who joined the Islamic State's so-called “caliphate” before the jihadists' last Syrian redoubt was overrun in March.

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