Two Norwegians on trial in Congo reportedly forced out of the military

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Two young Norwegian men charged with murder and spying in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were forced out of military service in Norway, reports newspaper Aftenposten. The two men, who face death sentences in Congo, were carrying expired military ID cards when arrested last spring.

The mystery surrounding Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland seemed to deepen on Wednesday, when Aftenposten cited a military security report from 2007 alleging that the two tried to recruit fellow soldiers for private, armed assignments in Africa. Both were part of Norway’s elite Telemark Batallion at the time, and Aftenposten reports they ultimately were asked to leave because of the alleged recruiting activity.

The report comes just after French, age 27 from Vestfold, and Moland, age 28 from Aust-Agder, altered some of the testimony they’d given after their arrests in May but otherwise remained silent as their trial in Kisangani came to an end on Tuesday. A verdict is expected next week.

Driver murdered
The two men were arrested after the driver of a taxi they’d hired in Kisangani was murdered while driving the pair and a few other passengers back to Uganda, where French and Moland have confirmed that they run a security firm. Police found photos of Moland smiling while cleaning blood off the taxi’s seat, and of the defendants posing with weapons.

They were charged with spying in addition to murder, apparently because of the military IDs they were carrying. They’ve been held ever since in a military prison in Kisangani.

It’s remained unclear exactly what the two Norwegians were doing in Congo. They have claimed they were on holiday, although Aftenposten reports they previously have had so-called “security assignments” in Africa including armed protection of individuals and organizations. They also have said they worked as guards on board ships vulnerable to piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

‘Personnel matter’
Military officials confirm that both men were part of the Telemark Battalion in 2007, but that they left within two weeks of each other in the fall of that year. Aftenposten now reports their departures were involuntary, tied at least in part to allegations that they were tied to recruitment efforts for private armed service in Africa. Military officials wouldn’t comment, calling their departures “a personnel matter.”

Both French and Moland denied they were forced out of the military. “That is incorrect,” French told Aftenposten . “It’s a lie,” said Moland. He says they left because of “new challenges” and claims the military rather tried to keep them in service.

Various parties in Congo have filed large compensation claims against both men and against the Norwegian state, because of the spying charges. The Norwegian government has rejected the claims, on the grounds the state had no involvement with the two men’s activities in Congo.

Their parents, meanwhile, are appealing to the Norwegian government to intervene more forcefully in the case, fearing the men will be executed in Congo.

(For earlier reports, see our news roundup .)