Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Monday, 25 August 2008 16:11 UK

Sarkozy recognises WWII massacre

By Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, Paris

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pays tribute to the victims of the Maille massacre
Mr Sarkozy said France had been indifferent to suffering

President Nicolas Sarkozy has said France committed a "moral error" by ignoring a German World War II massacre of French villagers for decades.

Mr Sarkozy became the first French leader to visit the village of Maille and attend remembrance ceremonies on the anniversary of the massacre.

Some 124 people - mostly women and children - were killed by retreating Nazi troops on 25 August 1944.

It was the second worst wartime mass murder of French civilians.

German soldiers, thought to have been acting in revenge for attacks by the French Resistance, gunned down the inhabitants of the small village in western France.

Most of the victims were women and children - among them were a three-month-old baby and a wheelchair-bound grandmother.

Another massacre the same month at Oradour-sur-Glane became a national symbol for Nazi atrocities and has been widely commemorated.

But the killings at Maille, which happened on the same day that Paris was liberated, were largely forgotten.

President Sarkozy acknowledged that France had failed the survivors.

"In the name of the entire nation I have come today to recognise and repair this fault," he said.

"By ignoring for so long the drama of Maille, by remaining indifferent to the pain of its survivors, by letting the memory of its victims fade, France committed a moral error."

Last month a German magistrate visited the village as part of a continuing war crimes investigation into the massacre.

Yet 64 years on, little is known about who carried it out and no-one has been brought to justice.

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