General Bigeard, veteran of France's Indochina war, dies

18th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

French general Marcel Bigeard, best known for his role in France's colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria, died Friday aged 94, his wife said.

Bigeard died in Toul, the northeastern town where he was born, after recently being hospitalised twice for phlebitis, or inflammation of the veins, she said.

"General Bigeard was for the French the incarnation of the heroic figure of the fighter," said President Nicolas Sarkozy in a statement issued while on a visit to London to mark the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's radio appeal to his compatriots to resist the Nazi occupation.

Bigeard, who condoned torture during France's brutal conflict in Algeria, fought the Germans during World War II at the beginning of a lengthy military career.

In the early 1950s he was the head of a parachute battalion in southeast Asia, where France was waging an unsuccessful struggle to recover its colonies in Indochina, seized by Japan during the war.

Bigeard and his unit were air-dropped into the besieged base of Dien Bien Phu, which was to fall to the Vietnamese nationalists in May 1954, signaling the end of the French presence in the region -- and the start of direct US involvement in what later became the Vietnam War.

He took part in the "Battle of Algiers" of 1957, when French forces made wide use of torture to try to dismantle the National Liberation Front (FLN).

The conflict was to bring the return to power in Paris of De Gaulle, who finally concluded that Algeria, considered by most French politicians as part of the motherland, would have to be granted independence.

© 2010 AFP

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