France condemns conduct of officer after Togo dispute

Image caption,
Col Romuald Letondot is shown berating the journalist

French officials have condemned a senior soldier who was filmed threatening a Togolese journalist.

In a video released on YouTube, Lt Col Romuald Letondot is shown ordering the journalist to delete images from his camera during a protest in Lome.

When the journalist refuses, Col Letondot threatens to smash his camera and have him arrested.

French defence officials said they wanted an investigation and said the soldier may face punishment.

"This vocabulary and attitude is not compatible with what we expect from our personnel," said French defence ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire.

"This does not correspond in any way with our values nor our idea of media relations and press freedom."

The foreign ministry said it "firmly condemned" the soldier's actions.

The footage shows Col Letondot involved in an argument with local photographer Didier Ledoux.

"Do you want someone to strike your camera, or what?" the soldier says, using the patronising "tu" form of address.

"I don't give a damn if you're press, erase the photo please, otherwise I'll take the camera myself."

Mr Ledoux responds: "Colonel, it's like me asking you to hand over your weapon. I'm doing my job."

The soldier then turns to local riot police and tells them to arrest the reporter.

Col Letondot later apologised to Mr Ledoux and told French TV that he had been worried that the photographs could have been misinterpreted.

He said he had been forced to stop his car and talk to local police after opposition demonstrators had hit his vehicle with stones.

"I showed the evidence to a Togolese gendarme, when I realised I'd been photographed and that this photograph could be misinterpreted, I got angry, my intention being to prevent a photo being taken without permission."

Togo gained independence from France 50 years ago, but France retains strong ties with many of its former colonies in Africa and is frequently accused of taking a high-handed attitude.

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