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France Honors 2 Commandos Killed During Raid In Burkina Faso

May 14, 2019
Originally published on May 14, 2019 7:25 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

France paid tribute to two elite commandos killed in an operation last week. They were trying to free kidnapped tourists in the African country of Burkina Faso. Speaking to grieving friends and family, President Emmanuel Macron said a life given is not a life lost. But many do feel loss and anger over the deaths. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The comrades of Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello carried their flag-draped coffins across the cobblestones of Les Invalides military monument. The two French naval special forces soldiers were killed on a mission to rescue French tourists who'd been kidnapped in a national park in the West African country of Benin and taken over the border to Burkina Faso.

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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: President Emmanuel Macron called the two soldiers aged 28 and 33 heroes of the nation, and he penned the Legion of Honour medal to their caskets. But that seemed little consolation to the soldiers' families who stood in the bright sunlight, crumpled in grief, clutching portraits of the men to their chests.

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BEARDSLEY: The commandos were part of a force of some 5,000 French soldiers fighting extremists in the Sahel region of West Africa. Operation Barkhane first deployed in 2014 to defeat a radical Islamist group that threatened Mali. But since then, the extremists have spread and splintered. General Jean-Vincent Brisset is a specialist in military affairs with the Institute of Strategic International Relations.

JEAN-VINCENT BRISSET: (Through interpreter) There was intel that the kidnappers in Benin were about to sell the hostages to a more hardcore al-Qaida-affiliated group in Burkina Faso, so the commandos moved in. And that's when they discovered two other hostages, a South Korean and an American, both women, who we believe had been held for about a month.

BEARDSLEY: The Korean woman returned to France with the two rescued French tourists. Her government says she was also a tourist. The American woman was released to U.S. authorities in Africa who have not disclosed her identity. There is incomprehension in France and angry tweets that tourists would visit an area of Africa where they were advised not to travel.

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JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Speaking to reporters at the airport Saturday as he brought the hostages home, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the government does not issue warnings for the fun of it. These warnings are imperative, he said, and I hope after this, tourists and travel agencies will heed them. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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