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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 19:45 GMT 20:45 UK


World: Africa

Comoros mercenary cleared of assassination

Bob Denard has led uprisings in Nigeria, Angola and Yemen

Former French mercenary Bob Denard has been cleared of assassinating the president of the Comoros Islands.


The BBC's Stephen Jessel reports: "There was little scientific evidence to settle the matter either way"
One of 70-year-old Mr Denard's top lieutenants, Dominique Malacrino, was also acquitted of the assassination of President Ahmed Abdallah during what appeared to be a coup staged by the army in 1989.

A number of Comorans in the court protested at the verdict with shouts of "Bob Denard assassin!" while Mr Denard's friends and family cheered the verdict at the Paris trial.

Mr Denard and Mr Malacrino were accused of assassinating President Abdallah in the presidential palace in Moroni, capital of the Indian Ocean nation.

Mr Denard was instrumental in restoring President Abdallah to power in a coup in 1978 after he had been deposed in a coup following the country's independence from France in 1975.

Influence

For 10 years he headed the 500-strong presidential guard and had enormous influence and flourishing business interests.

President Abdallah was killed during a third coup in 1989, because - the prosecution alleged - he was about to remove Mr Denard as head of the presidential guard.


[ image:  ]
Mr Denard, who headed the powerful presidential guard at the time, admitted to being with the president when he was shot dead, but claims he did not pull the trigger.

According to Mr Denard, President Abdallah's bodyguard, Abdallah Jaffar, burst into the room and fired at him, but the bullets accidentally hit the president. Mr Jaffar was in turn shot dead by Mr Denard.

Mr Denard said he was a close friend of President Abdallah.

"I was a soldier. I was never a killer," he told the court in a final plea on Wednesday.

Mr Denard's lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut, said: "He is a man of war. He is not a killer. This act is unlike him. This crime cannot be his."

'Family man'

The trial drew out another side of father-of-eight Mr Denard, who sobbed in court after being described by Marie-Elise, the most recent of his seven wives or companions, as "a protector and a good family man".

A third accused, Jean-Paul "Captain Siam" Guerrier, failed to surrender for the trial.

Since 1961, Mr Denard, whose real name is Gilbert Bourgeaud, has led uprisings in the Belgian Congo, Nigeria, Angola and Yemen.

He fled to South Africa shortly after the president's death, but six years later he led a mercenary invasion force to overthrow the then President, Mohamed Said Djohar.

He was then arrested by a French expeditionary force, and spent 10 months in a Paris jail.





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