News24

France officer threatens Togo journo

2010-08-13 08:39

Paris - France condemned the behaviour of one of its own military officers on Thursday, after a video appeared online showing him threatening a Togolese press photographer in Lome.

The officer, a serving French colonel employed by the foreign ministry as an advisor to the Togolese military, is seen ordering the journalist to erase pictures from his camera and ordering Togolese police to arrest him.

"Do you want someone to strike your camera, or what?" he demands, using the patronising "tu" form of address. "I don't give a damn if you're press, erase the photo please, otherwise I'll take the camera myself.

"Do you know who I am? I'm an adviser to the chief of staff of land forces," he declares, threatening to summon the Togolese president's commando guard force "to bloody well restore some order round here".

When the journalist protests he was just doing his job, the French officer turns to one of a number of uniformed Togolese riot police at the scene and, still using the insulting "tu" form, barks: "You, put him in jail."

The footage was uploaded on Tuesday to the YouTube video-sharing website and within two days had been seen by 140 000 users, many of whom posted comments denouncing France's "neo-colonial" attitude to its African former colonies.

The video can be seen here.

A spokesperson for the French defence ministry, Laurent Teisseire, said it had contacted the French foreign ministry to ask for an investigation that could lead to "possible punishments" against the officer.

"This vocabulary and attitude is not compatible with what we expect from our personnel," Teisseire said. "This does not correspond in any way with our values nor our idea of media relations and press freedom."

Stolen picture

The foreign ministry issued its own condemnation and named the officer.

"The foreign ministry firmly condemns the utterances made by Lieutenant Colonel Romuald Letondot," said spokesperson Christine Fages, adding that the colonel had apologised to the Togolese journalist at the French embassy.

France's West African colonies were given independence 50 years ago, but Paris has maintained close diplomatic, military and commercial ties with many of them and is often accused of adopting a high-handed attitude.

The incident erupted after the French officer's vehicle was held up during an opposition protest in the streets of Lome and a local journalist covering the event, Didier Ledoux, took his picture.

Letondot told the state-run France 2 television network he got out of his official car to show a Togolese policeman that it had been damaged by a stone-throwing protester and was surprised to be photographed.

"The photo could have been misinterpreted," he said. "I became annoyed, the idea was to prevent a stolen picture. I have apologised to Didier Ledoux. It's a shame that my time in Togo has to finish like this."

The defence ministry confirmed that the colonel's stay in Togo was coming to its planned conclusion in a matter of weeks, and said it would be up to the foreign ministry whether to withdraw him early.