Film moves Chirac to back down over war pensions

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The Independent Online

The French government will announce this week that, after more than 40 years, it will resume payment of full military pensions to colonial soldiers who fought during the Second World War.

The partial change of heart - there will be no back payments - follows a campaign by the actors and makers of a film which is being shown in French cinemas this week.

Indigènes, or "natives", tells the story of five North African soldiers who took part in the liberation of France from the Nazis in 1944. The five actors, including Jamel Debbouze, a French stand-up comedian of Tunisian origin, jointly won the male actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

After seeing the film at a special showing, President Jacques Chirac promised he would "do something".

Military pensions awarded to French veterans from former colonial countries have been frozen at level they were at when their nations achieved independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A French veteran gets €690 (£460) a month, while a North African receives €61.

Despite court battles and a judgment in their favour by the state watchdog, the Conseil d'Etat, nothing has been done for the surviving 80,000 French veterans who are now citizens of 23 other countries.

Senior government officials have indicated that M. Chirac was so touched by the film that he has ordered the full pensions to be paid. However, there is no question of back payments.

About one in three of all French soldiers who fought in the Second World War came from colonial countries or places such as Algeria, which were considered part of France. The US forces which invaded the south of France in 1944, soon after the D-Day landings, were accompanied by mainly colonial French troops.

Indigènes, directed by Rachid Bouchareb, tells their story. He says he wanted to make a film showing the French how much they owed to their ex-colonial populations, and to show the often disaffected, young second and third generation immigrants that they have their place in French history and culture.

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