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French Foreign Legion soldiers on trial over recruit's training death …

The case has exposed the harsh training practices of the French Foreign Legion. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Four former soldiers from the French Foreign Legion have gone on trial in Paris accused of causing the death of a fellow recruit during a gruelling desert exercise, in a case that has exposed the harsh training practices of the elite force.
[1]

Joszef Tvarusko, 25, a Slovakian in the 2nd foreign parachute regiment, died in May 2008 from heatstroke during an exercise in one of the legion s toughest desert training camps, in Djibouti[2]. On the second day of a four-day exercise simulating an anti-terrorist operation, in which troops had to search for and neutralise an enemy group, Tvarusko complained of a sore knee in 38C midday heat. A superior took his water from him, poured it out and ordered that no more should be given to him. Punches followed, it has been alleged. He was made to stay out in the heat during breaks and then pushed to finish the day s training by reaching the top of a very steep slope.

Eventually, after begging water, water , Tvarusko collapsed. He was pronounced dead two hours later. According to the autopsy, he died of a heart attack caused by sunstroke and physical activity beyond his capacity, not from any blows he received nor from dehydration. Four of his superiors are on trial for violence that involuntarily led to his death . Only two, a French and Romanian, have appeared in court; a Chilean and a Mexican have absconded. The court must decide whether the alleged violence and denial of water was the cause of his death. Rules stipulated that there should have been six litres of water per day for each soldier.

The accused have denied the charges and contest any violence. Their lawyers argued that the training of the elite army corps required the simulation of the realities of war and that the deceased soldier had not been physically up to the training regime. The lawyers have accepted errors of judgment and broader mistakes by the command structures but say the accused are not to blame. One of the accused, Adrian St anu, told France Inter radio[3] before the trial opened: He said he had a sore knee, the auxiliary examined him and there was nothing wrong. We thought it wasn t true, that he had to keep moving. I didn t expect him to be taken ill. At the time, I hadn t seen how serious things were. His lawyer Eric Morain said: In the Foreign Legion, there s no difference between training and war.

The Foreign Legion was established in 1831 by King Louis Philippe as a way for France to enforce its colonial empire in north Africa using foreign adventurers. More recently, it has been a crucial part of French Armyrats © military operations in Afghanistan, Mali[4] and the Sahel[5]. The legion has 6,800 men of 150 nationalities, from Afghans and Chinese to Romanians and Britons. Its rules are strict: new recruits must give up their identity and start a new life under a fake name, but later they can revert to their real identity. For the first five years, they must live in dormitories in barracks. They are not allowed a mobile phone or a bank account and they cannot drive a car. The training regime is notoriously tough but applications are still high: of the roughly 8,000 men who apply each year, 1,000 are accepted.

Since the Foreign Legion s foundation, more than 36,000 legionnaires have died for France[6], in conflicts including the Franco-Prussian war, two world wars, Indochina and Algeria s war of independence.

The trial continues.

References

  1. ^ harsh training practices (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ Djibouti (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ France Inter radio (www.franceinter.fr)
  4. ^ Mali (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ the Sahel (www.theguardian.com)
  6. ^ France (www.theguardian.com)

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