French army chief tells soldiers to quit over civil-war letter

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) speaks with French Armies Chief of Staff General François Lecointre
French Army Chief of Staff General François Lecointre suggested active soldiers should rein in their “personal convictions”

The French army chief of staff has urged soldiers to resign if they signed a controversial letter that warned of a civil war trigged by religious extremism in the country.

The letter, published in a right-wing magazine, accused the French government of granting “concessions” to Islamism. It followed a similar letter three weeks ago signed by 20 former generals, both letters were condemned by the French government but praised by right-wing politicians. On Tuesday, General François Lecointre addressed the latest letter in a message to military personnel.

“The most reasonable step is certainly to leave the institution in order to freely express their ideas and convictions,” he said in his message, according to French media reports. While the general did not threaten any sanctions, he accused the service personnel behind the letter of violating their “obligation of discretion”.

He said their “personal convictions” had embroiled the army in an undesirable political debate. “Every soldier enjoys freedom of thought but must unambiguously distinguish between civic and military duties,” the general said.

French President Emmanuel Macron reviews troops
The government of French President Emmanuel Macron has criticised the open letter

The soldiers’ letter was published late on Sunday by Valeurs Actuelles, a right-wing weekly news magazine published in Paris. The letter purports to have been written by active soldiers, who said they preferred to remain anonymous for fear of punishment.

The authors of the letter described themselves as part of a younger generation of soldiers who have served in Afghanistan, Mali and the Central African Republic, or joined domestic anti-terrorism operations.

“They gave their skin to destroy the Islamism to which you are giving concessions on our soil,” they wrote.

The message criticised the French government’s response to the “elders” who signed last month’s letter: “Did they fight for you to allow France to become a failed state?”

“If a civil war breaks out, the army will maintain order on its own soil,” the letter read.

A spokesman for President Emmanuel Macron’s party said the letter was a media stunt to help far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a candidate in next year’s presidential election.

France has recently proposed a controversial bill to tackle what President Macron has described as “Islamist separatism”.

However, some critics in both France and abroad have accused the government of unfairly targeting Islam.

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