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11.11.2019 Europe

France honours post-1963 war dead in 11 November ceremonies

Pool via Reuters/Ludovic Marin
NOV 11, 2019 EUROPE

French President Emmanuel Macron marked traditional Armistice Day ceremonies with the inauguration of a monument to 549 soldiers who have died in France's military operations abroad in the period following the Algerian War.

Macron marked the 101st anniversary of the armistice that ended World War One with an inauguration of a memorial in Paris's André-Citroën Park on Monday.

The monument bears names of 549 soldiers, including two women, who died in combat or as a result of wounds or illness in 17 theatres of operation of the French armed forces outside of France since 1963.

Names include those of 141 soldiers who died in Lebanon, 129 in Chad, 85 in Afghanistan and 78 in the former Yugoslavia. The most recent is that of Corporal Ronan Pointeau, who died during an attack in Mali on 2 November.

The memorial also features a sculpture depicting six soldiers, including five men and one woman from the air, sea and land forces, carrying an invisible coffin.

“Representing the coffin as an empty space is the best symbolic way to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers,” explained the sculptor Stéphane Vigny ahead of the ceremony.

“It represents the unbreakable link between all our soldiers,” Geneviève Darrieussecq, Secretary of State to the Minister of the Armed Forces, told RFI.

“It's a wonderful symbol for how they carry the soul of their comrades fallen in combat.”

Some 7,000 French soldiers are deployed around the world today, including 3,000 in Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region.

Eight years in the making
The monument has been in the making for eight years.

Launched under former president François Hollande, the project faced numerous delays and setbacks due to disagreements over its location. Macron pledged to see it through during a speech to armed forces in July 2018.

“France will never forget those who died for their country,” Macron said. “It will never forget its children. It's our duty and honour.”

The Armed Forces Ministry financed the cost of its construction, upwards of 1.2 million euros.

“The military community was waiting for this monument for a long time, because there was nowhere in France that brought together the names of those who died in these external operations,” Darrieussecq told RFI.

“It was important for the nation to honour its soldiers, for families to enshrine their memories and for the public to take note of the operations of the French armed forces over the years.”

The location chosen, the André-Citroën Park, is downriver of the Eiffel Tower in the city's 15th arrondissement and is known for its weather balloon, which is visible from points around the city.

Unknown Soldier flame relit
On Monday morning, Macron attended traditional ceremonies marking the 101st anniversary of the Armistice of 1918 along the Champs-Elysées Avenue in Paris.

These culminated with the president relighting the eternal flame burning at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe monument.

Macron also laid a wreath, inspected troops and greeted spectators including former presidents Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy under persistent rain.

Some 60 heads of state and government attended centenary commemorations at the Arc de Triomphe last year.

(with newswires)