2006-01-27 15:18:00
Embassy Paris
Cable title:  


pdf how-to read a cable
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 000553


E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2016

REF: A. PARIS DAO IIR 6 832 0057 06 (141639Z NOV 05)

B. LOME 55

C. 05 PARIS 952

D. 95 PARIS 4903


F. 05 PARIS 974

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Josiah Rosenblatt for reaso
ns 1.4 (b/d).

1, (C) SUMMARY: Several French judicial inquiries and
litigations concerning Africa are now making their way
through the legal system. These involve Cote d'Ivoire
(judicial inquiry into the killing of a reputed Ivoirian
bandit and the French military cover-up); Togo-Cote d'Ivoire
(possible arms trading in Togo with connections to Cote
d'Ivoire involving former French gendarme Robert Montoya);
Djibouti (legal conflicts over the 1995 death of French judge
Borrel); and Rwanda (victims of 1994 genocide suing the GoF).
These cases feature active intervention by the relatively
independent French judiciary with its tradition of
self-directed investigating judges, which has introduced a
complicating factor into French bilateral relations with the
countries concerned. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) On May 13, 2005, three French soldiers serving
with France's Operation Licorne killed an Ivoirian, reputedly
the notorious bandit Firmin Mahe, and then tried to cover up
the incident. This cover-up eventually reached to the unit's
battalion commander, Colonel Eric Burgaud, and the commander
of Operation Licorne at the time, Major General Henri Poncet.
Senior GoF and military officials learned of the cover-up in
October 2005. Reaction from the top was swift and
unequivocal -- Defense Minister Alliot-Marie, CHOD Bentegeat,
and Army Chief of Staff Thorette moved quickly to launch an
investigation, suspend those involved, and proceed towards
criminal prosecution. A third officer, Brigadier General
Renaud Alziari de Malussene, brigade commander at the time of
Mahe's death, has been relieved of command of Multinational
Brigade Northeast in Kosovo. The different cases against the
individuals (Poncet, Burgaud, and the three soldiers who
killed the Ivoirian) are proceeding. The examining
magistrate in Poncet's case is "juge d'instruction" Brigitte

Raynaud, who is also investigating the Togo-Cote d'Ivoire and
Rwanda cases discussed below. Raynaud is a member of the
"tribunal aux armees de Paris" (TAP),which has jurisdiction
over certain military-related cases.

3. (SBU) As the Mahe case has developed, the individuals
involved have begun accusing each other and offering
justifications for their actions. Burgaud claims that Poncet
authorized the killing, albeit implicitly, after Mahe was
apprehended -- by telling him to "drive him (Mahe) slowly to
the hospital," which Burgaud claims meant "make sure he dies
before you arrive at the hospital." Poncet denies this
accusation and says he helped cover up the killing in order
only to avoid exacerbating anti-French sentiment in Cote
d'Ivoire. One of the three soldiers who killed Mahe claims
that he did so on Burgaud's order, which Burgaud denies.

4. (C) COMMENT: Although there was an initial surge in
French military protests over the treatment of Poncet and the
others, it appears that the firm message from Alliot-Marie,
Bentegeat, Thorette, and other senior leaders -- that this
kind of behavior would not be tolerated and would not go
unpunished -- has now been accepted by French officers and
the rank and file, without unduly injuring service morale.
That a senior officer such as Poncet was not spared has
probably made the GoF's decision more acceptable to service
members. In pursuing the case, senior officials have
stressed the need for transparency and their duty to uphold
the honor of the French Army. (See Ref A for Army Chief of
Staff Thorette's assessment.) Although the French have not
stated it expressly, part of their reason for moving swiftly
and publicly in this case may involve a desire to avoid
criticism of the sort directed against the USG as a result of
Abu Ghraib and related issues.

5. (C) COMMENT CONT'D: A further twist to the case emerged
in December 2005 when questions arose in the media as to
whether Firmin Mahe was really the notorious bandit the GoF
claimed he was and whether the person killed was not Firmin
Mahe but rather an innocent namesake, Nestor Mahe. French
officials quickly stated that these issues were irrelevant to
the charges against the accused -- they had killed someone
illegally and then covered it up, and the victim's precise
identity did not change those facts. According to the press,
Judge Raynaud intends to obtain DNA samples of the victim in
order to make a positive identification, and is planning to
travel to Cote d'Ivoire to exhume the body, with the
cooperation of Ivoirian officials, on January 31. Her
mission may be complicated by the need to organize logistics
rapidly and the fact that the grave is located in rebel
territory. Until the victim's identity is established, the
possibility that the military killed the wrong person has
only added insult to injury, injecting a note of ridicule and
incompetence into an already sad story. Further complicating
matters, AFP reported on January 26 that a military court in
Cote d'Ivoire had issued an international arrest warrant for
General Poncet and Colonel Patrick Destremau, for their role
in the suppression by French forces of demonstrations in
Abidjan on November 9, 2004, which resulted in the death of
several Ivoirians. END COMMENT.


6. (SBU) Ref B notes the seizure of several warplanes in
Togo belonging to former French gendarme Robert Montoya.
This too has become the subject of French judicial inquiry,
with Judge Raynaud investigating the lethal bombing of French
military forces in Cote d'Ivoire on November 6, 2004. She is
now investigating the Montoya affair in Togo because of its
possible connection to Cote d'Ivoire and the possibility that
Montoya furnished or helped furnish the planes involved in
the bombing. Raynaud reportedly traveled to Togo on January
10 to seek information from the GoT on Montoya and arms
trafficking. Le Monde reports that General Poncet (the
former Operation Licorne commander under investigation for
the Mahe incident described above) has told French
authorities that Montoya helped the Cote d'Ivoire regime
"with respect to furnishing arms and probably technicians."
Paris daily Le Monde on January 11 described Montoya's long
connection with several African regimes, his experience over
many years in Africa on security issues, arms dealing, and
advising African leaders, and his long involvement in
clandestine affairs. When serving as a gendarme, Montoya was
a member of the Elysee's anti-terrorist cell during the 1980s.

7. (C) COMMENT: Montoya is one of several French citizens
with close and questionable ties to Togo, including former
Eyadema advisor Charles Debbasch and former European
Parliament Deputy Michel Scarbonchi (Ref C). Former GoT
Interior Minister Francois Boko, now in exile in Paris (Ref
D),has previously mentioned to us his belief, consistent
with Poncet's claims, that some war materials used by the
regime in Cote d'Ivoire, including aircraft, originally
transited through Togo. We will discuss this further with
Boko during our next meeting with him. END COMMENT.


8. (SBU) Ref E notes Djibouti's bringing the Borrel case to
the International Court of Justice on January 9, seeking to
compel French investigative judge Sophie Clement to provide
case files to the GoD. The case involves the 1995 death of
French Judge Bernard Borrel in Djibouti, where he was
conducting an investigation. His death under mysterious
circumstances was ruled a suicide, a conclusion his widow has
contested ever since. She claims that he was murdered and
has persisted in pressing her claim both on her own and by
engaging the French legal system, which has led to Judge
Clement's investigation (Ref F). In taking the case to the
ICJ, Djibouti also accuses Clement of overreaching, in
attempting to obtain the testimony of senior GoD officials
(including President Guelleh) pursuant to her investigation.
The ICJ filing follows the GoD's reported decision in October
2005 to cease cooperating with Clement's investigation.

9. (SBU) Mrs. Borrel has been adept at bringing media
attention to this case and the media have generally been
sympathetic. Public attention increased in October 2005 on
the 10th anniversary of Bernard Borrel's death. Several
groups demanded and petitioned that the GoF cooperate more
fully with Mrs. Borrel's and Judge Clement's investigations.
Defense Minister Alliot-Marie on October 18 announced the
declassification of 23 MoD documents, which she claimed
complied with the judge's requests for MoD information. Mrs.
Borrel's lawyer said that other classified documents should
be made available.

10. (C) COMMENT: As noted Ref F, MFA officials have tried
to minimize the impact of the on-going investigation,
describing the case as an "irritant" that should have little
or no effect on France's military presence in Djibouti.
Nonetheless, MFA officials have expressed to us their
frustration, stressing the independence investigative judges
enjoy in France's legal system and the MFA's lack of success
in convincing the GoD that its ability to control judges such
as Clement is limited. The MFA's January 11 public statement
after the International Court of Justice was drawn into the
case is typically dead pan: "France has well taken note of
the International Court of Justice's January 10 press
release. Djibouti's request to the ICJ has not been formally
transmitted to France by the Court. As soon as it is
officially transmitted, it will be the object of attentive

11. (C) COMMENT CONT'D: Judge Clement's continued refusal
to release files to the GoD has exacerbated the MFA's
problems, with both Djibouti and the French judiciary. About
one year ago, on January 29, 2005, the MFA announced publicly
that the GoF would provide Djibouti with the Borrel case
files. This did not sit well with the judiciary, which had
(and continues to have) control of the files and which did
not appreciate the suggestion that the MFA had the power to
provide them to the GoD or anyone else. The professional
organization representing France's magistrates was also
upset, claiming that the MFA's promise to the GoD was an
improper attempt to pressure Judge Clement to convey the
files to Djibouti. The MFA was never able to find a way to
provide the Borrel files to Djibouti.

12. (C) COMMENT CONT'D: We expect that the MFA,
notwithstanding the escalating legal battle between the GoD
and the French judiciary and Mrs. Borrel, will do its best,
on the one hand, to try to work constructively with Djibouti,
emphasizing its inability to control Judge Clement to
Djibouti's liking. At the same time, the MFA will likely
continue to explain privately to judicial officials the
implications of the case, while trying to avoid giving the
impression that the MFA is hindering Mrs. Borrel's attempts
to investigate her husband's death. END COMMENT.


13. (SBU) The French continue to examine their consciences
over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, wondering what went wrong
and what they could have done better. Six Rwandan survivors
of the genocide formalized the issue when they brought suit
in February 2005 against the GoF, accusing the French
military of "complicity in genocide" by allegedly allowing
Rwandan troops and Hutu extremists to enter camps where
Tutsis sought refuge. The French troops, part of the
UN-mandated Operation Turquoise, are also accused of such
things as putting Tutsis in helicopters and then throwing
them out to their deaths. The GoF has denied the charges.

14. (SBU) On December 23, 2005, the "procureur"
(prosecutor) of the TAP opened judicial proceedings in the
case ("information judiciaire," akin to a preliminary
hearing) after months of investigation. In October 2005, he
had declared that the case was not sufficiently supported to
warrant a trial. The TAP "juge d'instruction" -- once again,
Brigitte Raynaud -- continued to investigate to gather
further evidence that would make the case suitable for trial.
In November 2005, Raynaud obtained witness statements
(apparently from the six plaintiffs) by traveling to Kigali
to take their testimony, which she provided to the prosecutor
on December 5. Raynaud's work was apparently sufficient to
allow the prosecutor to move the case forward rather than
dismiss it or ask for more evidence.

15. (C) COMMENT: Perhaps in response to this case and a
new book, there has been a small flurry of debate these past
weeks over the Rwandan genocide and France's role. In
November 2005, well-known investigative journalist Pierre
Pean published "Noires fureurs, blancs mensonges" ("Black
Rage and White Lies"),which he claims "refutes the notion
that France was an accomplice of the Rwandan genocide in the
same way that Germany was during the Holocaust." He
describes the book as "revisionism without any qualms." Its
defense of French actions in Rwanda tends to buck the trend
of authors more critical of France. Pean takes on other
well-known journalists such as Colette Braeckman and Le
Figaro's Patrick de Saint-Exupery, who have been apt to place
a measure of responsibility on France for what happened in
Rwanda. The debate has continued in the press -- General
Jean-Claude Lafourcade, for example, published a defense of
Operation Turquoise in Le Monde on January 5, but Patrick
May, in a January 13 reply, countered by refuting
Lafourcade's points and citing flaws in the General's
analysis. The Rwandans' lawsuit, if it goes forward, will no
doubt fuel the arguments on both sides, but whatever its
outcome, is not likely to end the debate or ease consciences.

Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: fm