PARIS (Reuters) – A soldier has threatened to blow up a site storing about 64 tonnes of munitions in eastern France, leading to the evacuation of about 400 inhabitants of three villages in the Marne region.
The Marne district said on Sunday the sergeant major, an explosives expert, had locked himself up at the site where he had worked to protest against his upcoming retirement. The depot mainly stores anti-tank mines.
An official in charge of security forces at the site said the sergeant major had “the skills and the necessary materials” to blow up the depot if he wanted to.
“Given the risks to people in the surrounding area, the Marne prefect has decided to evacuate the inhabitants of Connantray-Vaurefroy, Lenharree and Normee,” the district said in a statement. “This concerns about 400 inhabitants.”
The statement added traffic had been rerouted. A special police unit GIGN, about 50 policemen and about 100 firemen had also taken positions around the site.
Dominique Dubois, top official in Marne, told France Info radio the sergeant major had probably been at the site since Friday. The man had left a note outside explaining his demands.
The special forces have been trying to establish contact with him but mobile phones did not work inside the building, Dubois said.
“The man wants his dossier to be re-examined because he will soon reach the age limit (for retirement). He is 47 and on December 17 he will reach the age limit. He would like to pursue his military career,” he said.
The retirement age for soldiers in France varies according to their job.
France’s Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said in a statement he was in permanent contact with the region’s prefect.