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French Judges Politicizing Death Probe-Djibouti
DJIBOUTI, Aug 29, 2007 – Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh accused French magistrates on Wednesday of politicizing an investigation into the death of a French judge in the Red Sea state 12 years ago.
In a ruling made public on Monday, a Versailles court ordered the trial of two of Guelleh's close aides in connection with the death of Bernard Borrel, whose charred corpse was found in Djibouti in 1995.
"The French authorities are politicizing this case without daring to bring it to court. Only in the media area (are they speaking). If they have proof, let them bring this question to the courts," Guelleh told Reuters in an interview.
"What kind of judges are these people?"
Djibouti authorities initially said Borrel, who was working as a consultant at the country's Justice Ministry, had committed suicide. But Borrel's widow has accused high-ranking local officials of involvement in his death.
Earlier this year, a French magistrate sought to question Guelleh -- who at the time of Borrel's death was chief of staff for then-President Hassan Gouled Aptidone -- but under French law, as a serving head of state, he could not be made to testify.
International arrest warrants were issued last October for two of Guelleh's aides: Public Prosecutor Djama Souleiman Ali and head of the Secret Services Hassan Said Khaireh.
Their lawyer said neither man would appear in court, meaning any trial would take place without them.
"The file is empty," Guelleh said on Wednesday. "They want to create problems between the two governments."
The Borrel case is sensitive for France because Djibouti is home to its biggest military base in Africa. And it is another crack in France's relations with its former African colonies.
Rwanda cut diplomatic ties with Paris last year after a French judge called for its president, Paul Kagame, to stand trial in the murder of his predecessor, a death widely seen as triggering the tiny country's 1994 genocide.
Guelleh dismissed fears Djibouti could be subject to terror attacks because it hosts large U.S. and French military bases.
"(Attacks) might be possible, but we are careful and vigilant. ... Do you think Somali insurgents are capable to go to another country and attack Americans and French? I don't think so," he said.
And he rejected allegations Somalia's rebels were in league with al Qaeda.
"With so many troops in Somalia, what has been found?" he asked. "Nothing. Not al Qaeda nor any of the international terrorists."
But he said piracy that has increased off Somalia since an Islamic Courts movement was ousted from Mogadishu over the New Year, was of growing concern. Djibouti's port, the country's economic lifeline, is on the strategic Bab al-Mandib straits.
On Tuesday, a Danish ship and its crew arrived in Djibouti after being held captive for 83 days by Somali pirates.
"What is now creating concern from our point of view is piracy," Guelleh said. "All the superpowers controlling the Indian Ocean are not able to protect from these pirates." (Additional reporting by Omar Hassan Awale)