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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Profile: French mercenary Bob Denard
Bob Denard at a Paris court on 20 February 2006
Denard is one of Africa's best-known "Dogs of War"
Bob Denard, 77, contributed to bloody conflicts across Africa for nearly 40 years, but the French mercenary is best known for his interventions in the Comoros Islands, one of which has led to his conviction in a French court.

He once described himself as "a soldier never an assassin", and has claimed he was acting in the interests of France or other European powers, though he was once accused of plotting to assassinate a French prime minister.

The suspicion that he is regarded with leniency in his home country grew stronger in 1993 when a five-year French prison sentence over a failed 1977 coup attempt in Benin was reduced to a suspended sentence.

His latest French conviction, for a 1995 coup attempt in the Comoros, also earned him a suspended sentence.

The French certainly didn't disapprove of what he was doing early on
Adam Roberts
UK writer on African affairs

He is sometimes portrayed as a pirate figure, and his career is certainly nothing if not colourful.

in 1968 he and several hundred fighters tried to invade Katanga - now part of the Democratic Republic of Congo - by bicycle, and in 1995 he arrived with 30 men in inflatable boats for the coup attempt on the Comoros.

Man of many names

"Denard is a little hard to pin down," says British journalist Adam Roberts.


"He has got all sorts of different names. When he was in the Comoros, he took on an Arabic name and he converted to Islam."

Denard was born Gilbert Bourgeaud in Bordeaux in 1929.

After a spell with the French navy in Indochina, he joined the police in the French colony of Morocco where he was convicted of an assassination plot against Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France.

After serving 14 months in jail, he was cleared of any wrongdoing and released. After returning to France temporarily, he came back to Africa as a mercenary:

  • he fought for the secessionist government of Katanga in 1961-63; he would return a few years later to what is now DR Congo in order to fight against leftist rebels, then for secessionists again

  • he went to northern Yemen in 1963 to train royalist tribesmen fighting the government

  • from 1968 he was employed by the government of Gabon

  • in 1977 he played his role in the failed coup attempt in Benin

As for the Comoros, a small, impoverished state, he is said to have overthrown its government four times between 1975 and 1995, and lived there for a decade.

In 1999, he was acquitted in France of killing Comoran President Ahmed Abdullah in 1989.

Adrenalin and gain

"Everyone seems to agree that when he first successfully overthrew the government of the Comoros, he was almost certainly supported by the French government," says Adam Roberts.

Bob Denard (centre) surrenders to French troops in the Comoros in 1995
Denard's activities in the Comoros finally got him arrested

"There was a rumour that he had sailed in a fishing boat all the way from France, all the way down the west coast of Africa, through the Atlantic and around the coast of South Africa and up to the Comoros.

"In fact it looks much more likely that he came in a fishing boat just from somewhere very close to the Comoros in the French-run part of the Indian Ocean.

"The French certainly didn't disapprove of what he was doing early on. His later trials came probably because they had stopped approving it."

In his book The Wonga Coup, Adam Roberts looks at other mercenaries who tried unsuccessfully to mount a coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004.

In his experience of investigating mercenaries, he says there are two main motivations:

"It is the adrenalin they are seeking as much as the money. Many mercenaries, who are usually ex-soldiers, do it because it's what they know and it's what they enjoy."

Whatever drove Denard, who is now said to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease, few in Africa are likely to remember him with fondness.

"Mercenaries have just intensified Africa's wars," says Adam Roberts.

"They have fought for all sides and they have made the wars ever worse - whether they were being paid their wages by governments or rebels."

The life of Bob Denard

French 'dog of war' spared jail
20 Jun 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Comoros
15 Feb 06 |  Country profiles

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