May 12, 2008 / 1:48 PM / 11 years ago

France may clear names of executed WWI mutineers

PARIS (Reuters) - France may posthumously clear the names of hundreds of soldiers shot for refusing to obey orders to fight during World War One, the minister in charge of veterans’ affairs has told a newspaper.

“I am considering a way of rehabilitating, on a case by case basis, those shot as an example during the First World War,” Jean-Marie Bockel told Monday’s edition of Le Figaro.

“My officials are considering the overall dossier minutely because not all the cases are the same,” he said. “We want to find those who were shot as an example, for example for refusing to fight or for mutiny, such as the mutineers of 1917.”

The final decision would be made by President Nicolas Sarkozy, he said.

Hundreds of French soldiers were shot by their own side during World War One, many for refusing to continue to fight after a bloody and unsuccessful offensive near the Chemin des Dames area of northeastern France in 1917.

The mutinies, in which many regiments refused to move from their own lines, raised fears among French leaders that the army could collapse and led to harsh reprisals against soldiers who refused to obey orders.

There have been several previous attempts to rehabilitate soldiers shot as an example and dozens were cleared during the 1930s, but the most recent serious bid was rejected by former President Jacques Chirac in 1998.

“Things have changed since, time has passed,” Bockel said. “Now it’s less a political move and more a question of memory.”

In 2006, the British government issued a posthumous pardon to 306 men shot for desertion or cowardice during World War One, many of whom were believed to be suffering from psychological trauma.

Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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