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Hunters drafted in to back up police in French countryside

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Hunters drafted in to back up police in French countryside
AFP
10:57 CET+01:00
An unprecedented but controversial partnership has been launched in northern France that will see 200 hunters helping out French police. Critics say the armed hunters will act like a "militia".
The team of "chasseurs vigilants" being launched in the Oise department to the north of Paris will see a "brigade of 200 hunters", given a special task of informing the local gendarmes of anything suspicious.
 
"We will be the intelligence services for the countryside," Guy Harlé d'Ophove, the president of the local hunters association told France Info.
 
"The idea came in the sense that the gendarmerie has less of a presence in rural areas than before. We on the other hand are constantly outside. We know the forests remarkably well," he said.
 
The volunteers will be picked by the police and will have to take an oath. Any hunter with a criminal record will be rejected.
 
The scheme is based on the Neighbourhood Watch project so the hunters will be tasked with keeping an eye on the woods where they hunt and reporting anything mysterious to the police.
 
The scheme is already reaping rewards for authorities after hunters reported a stolen car found in the woods at the weekend. The car and its belongings were returned to the owners.
 
Local hunter Luc Vandenbeele who came up with the idea, told Le Parisien, "We can also help in the search for missing people."
 
If the hunters spot anything suspicious they can dial 17 and by giving an identification code they will have a direct link with the police.
 
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While the project might make sense due to the strain on the resources of the gendarmerie, which are tasked to police rural areas in France, concerns have been raised that the hunters, who will naturally be armed, may start to act as vigilantes.
 
The local branch of Human Rights League has called the brigade of hunters a "militia in camouflage". 
 
Some fear hunters will benefit from impunity while others say they are the last people who should be given special responsibility.
 
"They will think they are cowboys and shoot at anything that moves," said one online commenter. Another said: "They need to stop getting drunk and shooting at anything."
 
 
 
 
But French gendarmes have tried to ease fears that hunters will start acting as cops.
 
"There will be no confusion of roles," police captain Eric Lecacheur told Le Parisien. "We have told them not to be gendarmes.
 
"Under no circumstances will they be asked to intervene unless it is to help a person. They will be asked to look out for anything strange and warn us in the case of an emergency."
 
 
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