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First victim of the Taliban conflict

By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Aug. 20, 2008) - New Caledonia was on Wednesday mourning its first casualty [in Afghanistan], one of ten French soldiers killed earlier this week in an ambush in Afghanistan.

22-year-old Private Melam Baouma, originally from Ouvéa Island (in the Loyalty group, North-East of the main island), had enrolled into a French regiment based in Chad.

The French ethnic Kanak was "brutally killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday August 19", the French High commission in New Caledonia announced on Wednesday, while at the same time conveying its condolences to the family and village of the late soldier.

Other expressions of sympathy came from across the political spectrum, including pro-independence and pro-French party leaders.

The attack on the French contingent occurred some fifty kilometres East of the Afghanistan capital Kabul during a joint reconnaissance mission with the Afghan army.

All victims were part of the latest rotation of 450 Frenchmen who took over the previous group in May this year.

While nine French soldiers were killed immediately in the ambush, Private Melam Baouma was the tenth casualty.

His body was to be repatriated to New Caledonia in the next few days.

The French army based in New Caledonia, through its Commander, General Martial de Braquilanges, has indicated they were intending to render forma military honours to the late soldier, but would first like to consult with the family and clan of the dead.

On Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Kouchner and Defence minister Hervé Morin have flown the Afghan capital, Kabul, when they have met French soldiers posted there.

Sarkozy, who also held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in the meantime stressed that France would not be deterred in its fight against terrorism and for democracy and freedom.

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