French soldier accidentally killed in Haiti

Corporal's death is first for multinational forces

March 22, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

GONAIVES, Haiti -- A French soldier was killed Saturday night after another soldier's weapon accidentally discharged while he cleaned it, a spokesman for the multinational peacekeeping forces said yesterday.

Lance Cpl. Johnny Tupana, 27, of the 3rd French Foreign Legion Infantry Regiment, is the first soldier taking part in the peacekeeping mission to be killed in Haiti.

U.S. Army Maj. Richard Crusan, a spokesman for the Interim Multinational Forces, said the shooting was accidental, but that French military investigators would conduct an investigation.

Approximately 140 French Legionnaires arrived in Gonaives on Thursday, part of 550 French troops on the ground in Haiti. An additional 200 French support team remain on ships offshore. Most of the French troops in Haiti are patrolling the north, while a handful has remained in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

French troops have been setting up their base in Gonaives, a port city 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince. They will assume peacekeeping duties in the northern region of Haiti, a region that includes Gonaives and Cap Haitien, cities that fell in the hands of rebels who hastened the departure of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

On Saturday, French troops patrolled Gonaives as rebel leaders turned over several weapons to Haitian National Police. Rebel leaders called it a symbolic gesture toward complete disarmament.

Tupana was the second soldier with the multinational force shot during the peacekeeping mission in Haiti. On March 14, U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Howard W. Hamilton, 20, was shot in the arm while on evening patrol in the Bel-Air section of Port-au-Prince. He was flown to Miami where he was treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He is expected to recover.

Hamilton, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., joined the Marine Corps last July.

The multinational force includes troops from the United States, Chile, Canada and France. The United States has the largest contingence on the ground -- 1,800 -- followed by the French. Canada has 360 and Chile 330.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marines and Haitians continue to face risks as the forces conduct operations. At 10:36 p.m. on Saturday, Marines fired on a vehicle that failed to stop at a vehicle checkpoint in the capital. The Marines fired in an attempt to disable and stop the vehicle, military officials said.

One man in the vehicle was shot in the head and another in the abdomen, but their wounds were not considered life-threatening, officials said. No Marines were injured.

According to the Associated Press, relatives identified the driver of the utility vehicle as Louis Rene Balmir, 43, and the passenger as Marcel Luckman.

Both men were in stable condition at Canape Vert Hospital. Relatives told the Associated Press that Balmir and Luckman were on their way to an all-night pharmacy to pick up asthma medicine for Balmir's son. The men said they did not see the checkpoint.

Crusan said Marines provided first aid to the two men and notified Haitian National Police of the shooting. After police arrived, the two men were turned over to police, he said.

Balmir, who was shot in the head and underwent surgery to remove bullet fragments, is married to a U.S. citizen.

According to military officials, a pistol and three magazines of ammunition were found in the vehicle.

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