Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bagatelle Battleground: France fights back

Reading the recent news of urban guerrilla violence in the French suburb of Bagatelle, outside Toulouse, it's hard to come to grips with the fact that this isn't Baghdad we're reading about, but a city in the nation of France.

Living with a crime wave rising from 227 acts of violence in 2006, to 405 committed by November 2007, the residents of Bagatelle are in desperate straights.

Earlier this year, one incident seemed to be the tipping point for the forces of law and order in the region. Translated from a report in the French newspaper La Depeche, an account of one incident too many:

Jean-Paul Breque, controller general of public security: "At 7:30 pm, we were alerted to a car on fire. A unit from the anticriminality brigade arrived very quickly on-scene. The team was set upon by about fifteen individuals. The officers were not able to continue. We had to mobilize reinforcements.

This took a while...

In Toulouse, we oversee 500,000 citizens. We can not concentrate our forces into just one neighborhood. And if the firefighters arrive alone, they are immediately targeted. It is my responsibility that neither they, nor my own men take short-sighted risks ["inconsidérés", in original... "inconsiderate risks"? I think he means "unnecessary risks"...] Especially when the cars burn away from inhabited areas. At least, out of immediate danger.

For residents, facing a burning car, these minutes are interminable...

I sympathize with them. This will always be too long. As soon as our forces were sufficient, we advanced and the opponents disappeared very quickly. They were pursued to du Cher street where a hail of stones were curbed by the use of tear gas. The site was then secured and firefighters could proceed.
The solution: an occupation force will be sent into the troubled region. Again from the article:
This time, enough is enough. After weeks of demands from exasperated residents... the securing of the Bagatelle neighborhood, a "sensitive" suburb of Toulouse, has been announced. [On January 9th], police dispatched a sizable force. Officials specializing in maintaining order, in identity verification, and even a team of dog trainers. "And we're staying the time that will be required. The time until certain young residents understand that there exists other ways of amusing themselves besides burning cars and pelt police and firefighters with stones. And until the time when the people find the calm they deserve", said controller general Breque, chief of public security.
That's a pretty vague exit strategy. I guess that means that they are never leaving..?

Sadly, the surge seems only to be exacerbating the potential for savagery in the neighborhood youth. A recent sniping raid by thugs resulted in a riot police officer getting his face burned by fire from a tossed Molotov cocktail. Thankfully, he escaped with wounds much less serious than might have been the case.

Another translated article from La Depeche has the details:
The stonings of police officers in sensitive neighborhoods repeats itself at a troubling rate and the neighborhood of Bagatelle has once again become the frame for one of these assaults. Monday, shortly after 10 pm, a CRS [riot police] police van was being driven through the city. In the heart of the sensitive sector, at the corner of du Lot and du chemin [streets] in Bagatelle, a dozen youths placed themselves behind the police van and threw five incendiary missiles. Three of these Molotov cocktails hit the CRS vehicle in a rear window. They broke into flames as they shattered upon the metal plate sides. The window was damaged, and some flaming liquid was projected into the interior [of the vehicle]. One of the CRS was struck in the face by this spray and was burned in his temple and cheekbone. First degree burns and therefore fortunately lightly wounded, representing three days of lost work. The assailants took flight.
The police unions have strongly denounced yesterday's actions. UNSA ["Union nationale des syndicats autonomes", National union of autonomous unions] is alarmed over "the trivialization of these urban guerrilla actions. Police on this patrol as well as other intervening teams have been profoundly shocked by this attack in general". These situations, continues the union, will conclude "inevitably in tragedy". "We demand that all means be put into effect so that the perpetrators of these events can be identified and charged with attempted homicide", says a union spokesperson...
To really be effective, the troop surge needs to be accompanied by moves to stem the flow of new insurgents crossing over the border and replenishing the ranks of the rebel forces holding out in their remaining strongholds in the no-go-zones. Otherwise this conflict can only lead to a war of attrition, with a daily drip-drip-drip of news stories about mounting casualties that will weaken the resolve of the voters to continue to support an armed presence in the region.
But that's just me playing armchair general...

All humor aside, Godspeed to these besieged people as they try to take back their neighborhoods. May the state be on their side, for a change.

[More on Toulouse's urban violence here.]

[Thanks to the tireless Tiberge at GalliaWatch for alerting me to these new developments in Bagatelle.]


Anonymous said...

This certainly gives lie to the phrase " A mere Bagatelle" !

Charles Henry said...

Ha! I wish I had remembered old expression that when I was writing the post... no wonder that name sounded familiar.

Yes, let's hope that this cultural molotov cocktail of brutality and incivility stops being treated as such a trifle, as such a "bagatelle".