Napoleonic troops reburied in Lithuania two centuries on

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Eighteen elite soldiers from French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's army who perished on the retreat from his failed invasion of Russia were laid to rest Monday in Lithuania, almost two centuries after their demise.

"These men perished trying to get back to the heart of the empire," said Captain Michael Bourlet of France's Saint-Cyr Coetquidan military academy at a funeral ceremony in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

French and Lithuanian officials paid their respects at a military plot that already houses the remains of 2,000 comrades from Napoleon's "Grande Armee" who also died in 1812 and were found by construction workers in Vilnius in 2001.

The 18 soldiers were discovered last year outside Vilnius by amateur archaeologists interested in World War II, when Lithuania was a battleground between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

"They were looking for soldiers from World War II and they stumbled on Napoleonic soldiers by accident," Rimantas Jankauskas, a Lithuanian expert, told AFP.

Historians were able to confirm the dead men were from Napoleon's elite Imperial Guard thanks to buttons identifying their regiments as the 29th Infantry, 2nd Dragoons and 7th Hussars.

Napoleon's forces hailed not only from France but also regions under his rule and allied nations, including Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, Croatia, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Prussia, Saxony and Spain.

His 500,000-strong army first passed through Lithuania -- which was then ruled by Russia -- in June 1812 as it pushed towards Moscow.

It returned in disarray just six month later, harried by Russian forces and battered by disease and cold. Only 40,000 soldiers made it home.

Tens of thousands died around Vilnius.

© 2010 AFP

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