French mercenary Bob Denard dies - sister

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BORDEAUX, France, Oct 14 (Reuters) French mercenary leader Bob Denard, a self-styled ''pirate of the republic'' involved in African wars since the 1960s, has died, his sister said today.

Denard had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease and was in his seventies.

''I confirm that he has died,'' Georgette Garnier, Denard's sister, told Reuters. She declined to say when or where he died.

Denard was sentenced by a Paris court in July for his part in a 1995 coup in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros.

He and others were charged with overthrowing Comoros President Mohammed Djohar in September 1995, when they put opposition leaders Mohammed Taki and Said-Ali Kemal in power.

The court sentenced Denard to four years in jail but ordered three of them suspended. A separate sentencing judge was supposed to decide whether the ailing Denard would serve time behind bars.

The mercenaries said they had acted with the knowledge and implicit support of the French government in the Comoros, a former French colony.

Denard, whose colourful and sometimes violent career as a mercenary in the Indian Ocean islands stretched back to 1975, was one of several European ''Dogs of War'' to play a major role in a series of African wars during the 1960s and 1970s.

In documents filed for the Comoros case, investigating magistrate Baudoin Thouvenot said he believed Denard had initiated the coup but that the French secret services, worried by the authoritarian stance of the Comoran authorities, had probably known about it and turned a blind eye.

Denard served in France's marines and the French colonial police in Morocco before a high-profile career as a mercenary during which he led ruthless, often ill-disciplined bands of European ex-soldiers, sometimes dubbed ''Les affreux'' (''the terrible ones'') in wars in Yemen, Biafra and Congo.

Denard received a suspended five-year sentence in France for his part in an abortive mercenary invasion of then Marxist-ruled Benin in 1977, but was acquitted when tried on charges of assassinating Comoros President Ahmed Abdallah in 1989.

He came out of apparent retirement in 1995 to help lead the Comoros coup, one of a series of coups since the islands gained independence from France in 1975. Denard was linked to four of the coups.

Reuters PD GC1720

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