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The BBC's Ade Akintonwa
"The General is virtually immune from prosecution"
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Jon Sopel reports from Paris
"The bloody struggle remains to this day a dark chapter in France's history"
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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Chirac condemns torture general
General Aussaresses
General Aussaresses: No regrets
French President Jacques Chirac has called for disciplinary action against a retired general whose account of torture and killings by French troops during the Algerian war of independence has shocked France.

Jacques Chirac
President Chirac: up in arms
Mr Chirac urged that General Paul Aussaresses be stripped of the Legion of Honour, one of France's most distinguished awards.

"The president is horrified by General Aussaresses' declarations and condemns the atrocities, torture and summary executions and murders that may have been carried out during the war in Algeria," said a statement issued by his office.

It said Mr Chirac had called on Defence Minister Alain Richard to consider disciplinary action against the 83-year-old general.

Death squad

In a book titled "Special Services 1955-1957", published this week, General Aussaresses describes how he and his "death squad" tortured and killed 24 prisoners with the full knowledge and backing of the French government.

It's efficient torture - the majority of people crack and talk

Paul Aussaresses
He said the French Government was regularly informed about, and tolerated, the use of torture, summary executions and forced displacements of people.

"The men I executed were always men guilty of blood crimes. They had blood on their hands," he said on French television on Thursday.

On Wednesday, he told Le Monde: "It's efficient, torture... The majority of people crack and talk. Then, most of the time, we kill them...

"Did this pose problems of conscience? I have to say, No. I was used to those things."

Trial prospects

The BBC correspondent in Paris, Jon Sopel, says General Aussaresses cannot be prosecuted in the French courts because an amnesty was agreed for crimes of this nature in 1968.

"It's not a question of repentance. These are facts for historians to work on

Veterans Minister, Jean-Pierre Masseret
He says that it would technically be possible to try him for war crimes, as the human rights organisation Amnesty International has suggested, but that this remains unlikely in practice.

Mr Chirac's statement followed an expression of indignation by Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu, who said that an investigation was required "on the part played by the political and military authorities".

Repentance debate

Meanwhile, Military Veterans Minister Jean-Pierre Masseret said the revelations were cause for condemnation, but that there was no need for France to repent.

"It's not a question of repentance. These are facts for historians to work on," he said.

The question whether France should apologise first arose when General Aussaresses and another elderly officer, General Jacques Massu, aged 92, admitted in November interviews to Le Monde that torture was "institutionalised".

In response, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin ordered the government's archives, including military records, to be opened to historians.

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See also:

07 Feb 01 | Europe
France plans Algeria memorial
20 Jan 01 | Middle East
Algerian president under pressure
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Algerian violence flares
07 Dec 00 | Middle East
Timeline: Algeria
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