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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Appeal at French troop sentences
French tanks at BCEAO in Bouake
French troops are supposed to be bringing calm to Ivory Coast
France's Justice Ministry will seek to appeal against "lenient" sentences handed down to 12 peacekeepers who robbed a bank in Ivory Coast.

Justice Minister Pascal Clement told French radio he had been asked to act by the defence minister.

The troops were sentenced to between two months and a year each in prison by a military court in Paris on Tuesday.

They were supposed to be guarding the bank in the western town of Man and stole the equivalent of about $400,000.

Some 4,000 French peacekeepers are in Ivory Coast, monitoring a buffer zone between rebel forces in the north and the loyalist south.

Hollow statues

"Given the facts, the sentences are insufficient", Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie had said.

Some of the soldiers allegedly bought digital cameras and mobile phones with the money and sent them to their families in France.

They are also alleged to have hidden bundles of notes in hollow statuettes made for the purpose.

The father of one of the French soldiers has also been charged with receiving stolen goods.

Six other French soldiers have been accused of stealing nearly $20,000 worth of CFA francs from another branch of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) in the rebel headquarters of Bouake last year.

They are expected to stand trial later this year.

The robbery in rebel-held Man came as banks throughout the eight countries of the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA) were in the process of replacing a 1992 series of banknotes with more secure bills.

The branch where the theft was recorded had been put under extra surveillance following a series of thefts from Ivorian banks in 2003.

The prosecutor said on Tuesday that the men - aged between 20 and 35 - had besmirched the name of France on the international scene.

He said they betrayed "their mission" last summer.

Investigators said the soldiers had admitted to the majority of the charges against them.

Eight of the soldiers were sentenced to 12 months in jail, while the other four were handed sentences of between two and eight months.


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