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Hollande waves to soldiers at yesterday's ceremony David Vincent/AP/Press Association Images

Anger over desecration of 40 German soldiers' graves at WW1 cemetery

Wooden crosses were broken and burned at the French graveyard.

THE DESECRATION OF the graves of 40 German soldiers from World War I in France has been condemned by the governments of the two countries.

The tombs were damaged at a military cemetery in the Ardennes region of northern France, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of renewed Franco-German relations after World War II.

“No dark force and even less stupidity can alter the deep Franco-German friendship,” French president Francois Hollande told German chancellor Angela Merkel and others gathered in Reims for yesterday’s ceremony to celebrate their countries’ reconciliation, symbolically achieved on July 8, 1962.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin on Saturday that the reconciliation was one of the world’s most important.

The desecration of the German graves happened in a cemetery some 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the spot where the two leaders met to celebrate their post-war ties.

Hollande and Merkel reviewed troops from their countries, exchanged kisses on the cheeks in greeting, and called each other “dear” Angela and Francois in stark contrast to earlier more formal, and even frosty, meetings.

Meanwhile, French interior minister Manuel Valls strongly condemned the vandalism at the Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes cemetery.

“An enquiry is underway and all means are being employed to find those responsible for this terrible desecration,” his ministry said in a statement.

The local prefecture said the wooden crosses had been kicked over, broken and in some cases burned at Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes cemetery, which hosts the graves of some 12,000 World War I soldiers – the majority of them German.

Beer bottles were found scattered around the site and there was no sign of any political message.

It was not immediately possible to say whether this was a “determined action” or just the work of “irresponsible people”, a spokesman at the local prefecture said.

There were no signs of any political message, he added.

The alert was sounded on Saturday afternoon by the small village’s town hall, a source close to the enquiry said.

More than 12,000 German soldiers who perished in the Great War lie buried at the cemetery in Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes, which extends over four hectares (10 acres).

They were among those who died in the Battle of Champagne in the first part of the 1914-18 war.

- © AFP, 2012

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