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Angola Arms Trial Opens in France

A major arms and graft trial involving shadowy links between France and Angola has opened in Paris. Lisa Bryant reports for VOA from the French capital that the son of a former French president and a former French interior minister are among the defendants.

Forty-two people are on trial in Paris on charges of illegal arms sales to Angola during the 1990s, when the southern-African nation was immersed in civil war.

Prosecutors say helicopters, land mines and warships were shipped to Angola for five years in the 1990s, strengthening President Eduardo Dos Santos' military government against rebel fighters.

The long-awaited case, which has been in the news for years in France, implicates former French interior minister Charles Pasqua and Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, son of deceased French president Francois Mitterrand.

Mr. Dos Santos stands accused of tapping two businessmen for weapons supplies during the war after France refused to sell him tanks - a move that would have violated a U.N. arms embargo against Angola at the time.

Angola has petitioned to stop the trial on grounds that its state interests and national security would be discussed in court and therefore compromised.

Both Pascua and Mitterrand deny charges against them of influence peddling on behalf of Angolan officials and of taking substantial bribes related to the alleged arms trafficking.

Mitterrand told French radio he was completely innocent and that contacts he had with Pierre Falcone, one of two businessmen who allegedly presided over the arms deals, had nothing to do with the weapons shipments. Rather, he said, he had been asked to offer general information on the region, and was paid a commission for his work.

Mitterrand and Pascua face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty, as do both businessmen accused of the arms shipment.