Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 10:58 UK

France acquits Djibouti officials

Bernard Borrel (file)
Relations between France and Djibouti were strained over the Borrel affair

A French court has overturned jail sentences handed out in absentia to two Djibouti officials convicted of halting a probe into a French judge's death.

The court also ordered the cancellation of international arrest warrants for public prosecutor Djama Souleiman and the secret service chief, Hassan Said.

Judge Bernard Borrel's corpse was found in 1995 in Djibouti and local officials initially said he had killed himself.

But his widow said he was murdered on the orders of high-ranking officials.

At the time of his death, Borrel was acting as a consultant to the Djibouti justice ministry and reportedly investigating arms smuggling.

Mr Souleiman and Mr Said were both accused of having put pressure on key witnesses in the Borrel case with the aim of discrediting testimony that potentially linked Djibouti's President, Ismael Omar Guelleh, to the death. He has denied any involvement.

Mohamed Saleh Alhoumekani, a former member of the Djiboutian presidential guard, told a French court last year that he had heard five men discuss the elimination of the "nosy judge" with Mr Guelleh, who was head of the former president's private office at the time.

The court of appeal did not give a reason for Thursday's acquittal.

Correspondents say relations between France and its former colony have been strained over the Borrel affair, especially since President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to help his widow, Elisabeth, find the truth.

She maintains that Paris co-operated with efforts to obstruct the inquiry because of fears of losing its major military base in Djibouti.

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