German WWI Military Graves Desecrated in France
The gravestones of 40 German soldiers from World War I have been desecrated at a military cemetery in the Ardennes region of northern France, the interior ministry said Saturday.
The announcement came on the eve of the 50th anniversary of renewed Franco-German relations after World War II.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin Saturday that the reconciliation was one of the world's most important.
Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are to attend a ceremony Sunday in the French city of Reims to celebrate their countries' reconciliation, symbolically achieved on July 8, 1962.
The desecration of the German graves happened in a cemetery some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the spot where the two leaders will meet to celebrate their post-war ties.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls strongly condemned the vandalism at the Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes cemetery.
"An enquiry is underway and all means are being employed to find those responsible for this terrible desecration," his ministry said in a statement.
According to initial information, some 40 wooden steles were pulled up and some used for a camp fire.
It was not immediately possible to say whether this was a "determined action" or just the work of "irresponsible people", a spokesman at the local prefecture said.
There were no signs of any political message, he added.
The alert was sounded on Saturday afternoon by the small village's town hall, a source close to the enquiry said.
More than 12,000 German soldiers who perished in the Great War lie buried at the cemetery in Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes, which extends over four hectares (10 acres).
They were among those who died in the Battle of Champagne in the first part of the 1914-18 war.
More than 17 years after the end of World War II, then French president Charles de Gaulle and former German chancellor Konrad Adenauer "dared to launch a new beginning, an extraordinary new start that led to one of the world's most important friendships," Merkel said in her weekly online video broadcast.