France is preparing to launch military disciplinary actions against at least 18 active soldiers for signing a controversial open letter that is being interpreted as a “call to sedition,” the country’s chief of the defense staff announced Wednesday.
In his first remarks, Gen. Francois Lecointre told the Le Parisien news outlet he was “absolutely revolted” and “shocked” to read the letter making a call to active military personnel.
“I cannot accept this, because the neutrality of the army is essential,” he said.
Lecointre added that so far, 18 active soldiers, including four officers, were identified among the signatories and the military is in the process of conducting a census to identify more. There are 210,000 active soldiers in the French military service.
The signatories include former generals who are in the 2S, or “second section,” who can be recalled by the Ministry of Armed Forces for a particular mission such as strengthening the management of an army if necessary. Lecointre said such generals will be struck off from the list and automatically retired.
“This is an exceptional procedure, which we are launching immediately at the request of the Minister of the Armed Forces. These general officers will each pass before a higher military council. At the end of this procedure, it is the President of the Republic who signs a decree of radiation (removal),” he said, detailing the action against the retired generals.
His statements follow Defense Minister Florence Parly’s comments Sunday reiterating that “the armies are not there to campaign but to defend France” and that the army must follow the “immutable principles of neutrality and loyalty.”
The open letter addressed to President Emmanuel Macron “denouncing the disintegration which strikes our homeland” was first published on the Place Armes blog on April 14 and republished in the right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles last week.
The signatories – 20 retired generals as well as other officials of different ranks and files in the military, police and gendarmerie – claimed that in the current circumstances, they cannot remain “indifferent” and “passive spectators” as “perils are mounting, violence is increasing day by day.”
The text evokes a risk of civil war and suggests an intervention of the army nationally.
Lecointre said the armies are engaged in external operations to fight against identified enemies like Daesh or in the management of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Engaging in the national territory as mentioned in the forum makes no sense. Armies are not made for policing,” he said.
He pointed out that the text of the letter is an unacceptable attempt to manipulate the military.
According to him, if retired people who have an offbeat view of the reality of the military’s commitments want to speak up, then they should do so without putting forward their former military status or rank.
The letter is an initiative of retired gendarmerie officer Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac. As of today, more than 8,000 former military members have added their signatures to the letter.
The letter sparked a political outcry in France after it was endorsed by far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen, who invited the retired military men to join her campaign for the 2022 presidential election.