Police question French general over death of prisoner in Ivory Coast

The general who led French peacekeepers in &to=http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/09/30/37473.html' target=_blank>Ivory Coast when members of his force killed a prisoner was taken into police custody Tuesday and placed under investigation for his alleged role in the case, officials said.

The investigation of Gen. Henri Poncet followed a colonel's claim that the general implicitly ordered the death of prisoner Firmin Mahe, suffocated by French soldiers in an armored vehicle.

Poncet was brought before to a magistrate after police questioning, and the judge put him under investigation _ a step short of formally charging him _ for "complicity in intentional manslaughter," judicial officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Also questioned as a witness Tuesday was Gen. Renaud de Malaussene, a former deputy to Poncet in Ivory Coast.

The Defense Ministry said in November that Mahe, a suspected gang leader, was killed by French soldiers and that commanders knew of the killing but did not report it to their superiors.

Poncet, who commanded France's 4,000-strong peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast at the time of the May 13 killing, has already been given an official warning and transferred.

The head of France's armed forces, Gen. Henri Bentegeat, has called the events "unacceptable at every level."

French magistrates have previously placed four soldiers from the peacekeeping force under formal investigation. Two of the soldiers, who were riding in the armored vehicle where Mahe was suffocated, face murder charges. The other two, including the vehicle's driver and a colonel, Eric Burgaud, are suspected of complicity in murder.

According to judicial officials, Burgaud claimed during questioning that he received an implicit order from Poncet that Mahe should be killed _ apparently because the military believed that the Ivorian was involved in highway robberies. Poncet's attorney, Jean-Rene Farthouat, has said that the general strongly contests Burgaud's claim.

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