France surprised by Amnesty's Kosovo accusations

PARIS, Mar 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) France expressed surprise on Tuesday at allegations by Amnesty International that French troops were guilty of human rights abuses in Kosovo.

"The least I can say is that I am surprised at these allegations," foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret told reporters.

She added that "the professionalism" of the French troops trying to keep order in difficult conditions in the flashpoint city of Mitrovica "was recognised by all." Nearly 20 French soldiers have been wounded there in less than a month.

Gazeau-Secret did not directly address the accusations, which the defence ministry said commanders of the Kfor peacekeeping force would reply to on the spot.

The London-based human rights group accused NATO and the United Nations on Monday of failing to observe high human rights standards in Kosovo and singled out French troops in Mitrovica.

Amnesty called for an independent inquiry into the fatal shooting of an ethnic Albanian man in Mitrovica by the NATO-led KFOR force, most of whose troops in the divided city are French.

The report also said 49 people detained by French troops after an outbreak of violence were kept in inhumane conditions and denied rights such as being told the reason for their arrest and being given access to lawyers.

Gazeau-Secret told reporters: "I want to remind you that a multinational coalition is at work in Kosovo...where there is unshakeable solidarity between national contingents."

The satirical investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine wrote earlier this month about the detainees, saying that weapons were found in the homes of some, but that others appeared totally unconnected to the violence in the city.

Le Canard said the detainees were questioned by hooded army intelligence officers, in the presence of paramilitary policemen who were there to ensure that questioning took place under accepted legal conditions.

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