France's ex-soldiers in Ivory Coast admit Mahe killing

French peacekeepers in a mock exercise in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (19 November 2012) French troops are now helping to rebuild the Ivorian army

Four ex-French peacekeepers have admitted their role in the killing of a suspected gang leader in Ivory Coast in 2005, but say they acted under orders.

Prosecutors have asked a Paris court to jail Col Eric Burgaud and his three co-defendants for suffocating Firmin Mahe to death with a plastic bag.

France sent a 4,000-strong force to its former colony after it descended into a now-ended civil war in 2002.

Force commander Gen Henri Poncet was sacked following Mr Mahe's death.

He is not on trial, and denies ordering Col Burgaud to kill Mr Mahe.

Mr Mahe, whom the French accused of being a murderer and a rapist, was arrested near the western town of Bangolo in May 2005.

He was then suffocated with a plastic bag in the back of a military vehicle.

His family has always insisted that he was innocent, and has been campaigning for the former peacekeepers to stand trial for his murder.

'Drive slowly'

On Thursday, prosecutors called for prison terms of between two and five years for the accused.

Col Eric Burgaud Col Burgaud said he was following orders

Chief prosecutor Annie Grenier said the ex-soldiers had been involved in a "cold-blooded murder" in a country where they were supposed to help protect civilians.

She said even if they acted on orders, it was their "duty to refuse to carry out an illegal order".

Col Burgaud said Gen Poncet ordering the killing with the phrase: "Drive slowly, you understand me?"

He understood this to mean that it would be "best if Mahe arrived dead" and he relayed the instruction to his co-accused, Col Burgaud said.

They include Sgt-Maj Guy Raugel, who suffocated Mr Mahe with the help of Corporal Johannes Schnier.

The vehicle's driver, Corporal Lianrifou Ben Youssouf, has also been charged with murder.

French peacekeepers were first deployed to Ivory Coast when it split between a rebel-held north and a government-held south in 2002.

The conflict ended last year when French and United Nations forces helped arrest then-President Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to accept defeat in elections.

This allowed the winner of the elections, Alassane Ouattara, to take power.

French troops are now playing a key role in training the new Ivorian army.

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