Libya rebels accuse Frenchmen of anti-revolution acts

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Libyan rebels said on Friday that a French ex-paratrooper they shot dead and his four compatriots were not private security contractors but in Benghazi to undermine the anti-Kadhafi revolution.

"On the evening of 11 May, local security forces in Benghazi were instructed to arrest a group of five Frenchmen for illicit activities that jeopardised the security of Free Libya," the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said.

"Regrettably, one of the suspects was accidentally shot after resisting arrest," it said in a statement, which did not provide details of the men's alleged activities but said a formal investigation was under way.

The dead man has been identified as Pierre Marziali, the 47-year-old founder of French private security firm Secopex. The four detained men also worked for the company.

The firm said it had been prospecting for security work in Benghazi and had been in contact with the NTC.

One of its executives told a French newspaper he had recently been in Tripoli where he had turned down an offer to work for the regime of Moamer Kadhafi.

Robert Dulas insisted the company had been open with the rebels about that visit.

"It was the Tripoli regime that called us, but we declined their requests except for the possibility of working on improving their communications," he told Liberation daily.

The rebel statement came after European diplomatic sources in Benghazi said the men may have been spies for the Kadhafi regime.

The French government, the rebel's staunchest ally, said in a terse statement Thursday only that five French nationals were detained after an encounter with a police unit and one "was wounded by a bullet and died overnight in a hospital."

Dulas told Liberation that "Pierre had just arrived (in Benghazi) after a 15-hour drive from Cairo.

"One of our members telephoned me from there to say everything was OK. Two hours later, he was killed. Something doesn't make sense."

Secopex said in a statement Marziali was shot dead as he left a restaurant with colleagues.

The firm said it had been in contact with the NTC, "which had also asked for support in training and equipment."

Marziali "was due to meet the NTC on Thursday" but was killed the night before that, the firm said, adding that it had no news of his four companions arrested in the same incident.

Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the NTC, told AFP he had met Secopex employees 10 days ago in a Benghazi hotel and they had told him they hoped to train rebel fighters and provide security for foreign firms or diplomats.

Three Frenchmen who have been doing the rounds of hotels where Western diplomats and media stay in Benghazi told journalists they were ex-military who were in town to prospect for new contracts for Secopex.

Marziali founded Secopex, based in the southwestern French town of Carcassonne, in 2003.

The firm bills itself as employing a roster of former soldiers to offer "strategic and operational support" to companies in dangerous regions.

In an interview with AFP in 2008, he boasted that his firm could field up to 2,000 veteran military specialists ranging from divers, pilots and translators to training officers and combat medics.

He also claimed to have signed a contract to provide war-torn Somalia's beleaguered interim government with a coast guard unit to combat pirates, but nothing appears to have come of the alleged deal.

© 2011 AFP

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