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French News Reports Say Peacekeeper in Ivory Coast Was Ordered to Kill

01 December 2005

French news media are reporting a colonel says he was ordered to kill an Ivorian from the former head of France's peacekeeping operations in Ivory Coast. The colonel is among four soldiers under investigation in the death of the man last May in the West African country.

According to reports by French news agencies and radio, Colonel Eric Burgaud says he received implicit orders to kill an Ivorian by Henri Poncet, the former head of France's peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast.

Colonel Burgaud is under investigation in connection with the suffocation of Ivorian Firman Mahe in a French-armored vehicle. Mr. Mahe was suspected of having committed five murders and rapes in the western part of Ivory Coast. He was injured by bullet in the leg last May. France's Defense Ministry says he was suffocated en route to a hospital in the western city of Man.

Three other French soldiers are also under investigation in the Mahe killing. Jacques Tremolet de Villers, the lawyer of one of the men, told France-Info radio the three soldiers received direct orders to kill Mr. Mahe from Colonel Burgaud.

Mr. Tremolet de Villers said the soldiers had been told to "neutralize" Mr. Mahe. When asked to define what that meant, the lawyer said that in military language it meant to kill Mr. Mahe.

There appears to be conflicting reports about whether the two other soldiers under investigation offered a similar version of events. But the killing of Mr. Mahe has most certainly created a scandal in France, as it has in Ivory Coast. France has 4,000 troops charged to enforce an uneasy peace between government and rebel forces in its former West African colony.

General Poncet no longer commands French forces in Ivory Coast. Nonetheless, he and his deputy have been seriously reprimanded for the incident that took place under their watch. Earlier this month, France's Defense Ministry said that its commanders had known about the killing of Mr. Mahe, but did not report it to their superiors.

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