France is preparing to punish ex-generals and serving soldiers who signed a letter warning of a civil war with Islamists.
“These are unacceptable actions. There will be consequences, naturally,” the French defence minister, Florence Parly, said on France Info radio on Monday. “The military are not there to campaign, but to defend France and protect the French.
“For those who have violated the duty of reserve, sanctions are planned, and if there are active soldiers among the signatories, I asked the chief of staff of the armed forces to apply the rules,” Parly said.
According to French law, retired officers could lose their ranks and pensions if they violated their duties. Active duty soldiers could face court martial and between two to five years in prison.
The lead signatory was a former French Foreign Legion commander, who was arrested in 2016 and expelled from the military for taking part in an anti-migrant rally in Calais, reports the euobserver.
The letter was signed by 24 retired generals, as well as 80 colonels or captains, 125 lieutenant-colonels or lower-ranked officers, and about 1,000 others.
It was published in the right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles (Current Values) on April 21 – 60 years to the day after generals led a failed coup against General de Gaulle over Algerian independence.
It blamed “fanatic partisans” for creating divisions between communities, and said Islamists are taking over whole areas of the nation.
The letter warns French President Emmanuel Macron, his government, and MPs of “several deadly dangers” threatening France, including Islamism in the impoverished immigrant suburbs that surround French cities.
“It is no longer the time to procrastinate, otherwise tomorrow civil war will put an end to this growing chaos and deaths – for which you will be responsible – with numbers in the thousands,” the letter concludes.
“The hour is grave, France is in peril,” the signatories said.
Parly reassured the French public that the old men “in their slippers” who signed it posed no threat, because the “immense majority” of serving French officers had not joined them.
However, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a candidate in next year’s presidential election, has spoken out in support of the former generals and is asking for support in “the battle of France”.
The backing of Le Pen means the themes will continue to resonate with a “silent majority” of the French people in the year of campaigning ahead.
Macron is currently neck-and-neck with Le Pen, with each scoring between 25 and 28% in polls earlier this month.
Le Pen’s response came on the same day as a fatal knife attack at a police station south-west of Paris, which is being treated as a possible terrorist attack.
France has proposed a controversial bill to tackle what Macron has described as “Islamist separatism”.
However, some critics in both France and abroad have accused the government of targeting Islam.