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Long-term Czech member of French Foreign Legion dies

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Prague/Marseilles, May 2 (CTK) – Czech Pavel Knihar, a long-term member of the French Foreign Legion, who left Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup in 1948, has died in Marseilles at the age of 87 years, his grandnephew Petr Kos told CTK on Wednesday.

The military funeral of Knihar, who received high state and military decorations in France, will take place in Aubagne on Friday.

At the age of 17, Knihar took part in a student demonstration on February 25, 1948, which was dispersed by the Communist People’s Militia paramilitary units. Then he and his schoolmates sharing the same ideas founded a secret organisation, the Union of Free Students, that was issuing leaflets and the Free Voice magazine.

The StB Communist secret police detained him in June 1948, took him into custody and questioned brutally. He was released on the basis of a presidential amnesty and fled to the West in August 1948.

Shortly afterwards, Knihar joined the French Foreign Legion. He participated in the fights in Indochina. He was decorated with several military crosses and medals. Later, he was sent to the fighting in Algeria, Madagascar and the Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia. He also took part in the hold-back of the Lidice cargo ship that was transporting arms for the Algerian National Liberation Front.

Knihar retired in 1978 and he was appointed the Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour. In 1984, he was raised to the rank of the battalion commander. In 2003, he was named the Officer of the Legion of Honour and six years later, the Commander of the Legion of Honour, which is one of the highest French decorations.

In the Czech Republic, Knihar received the only award – the Vaclav Benda Prize from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR) eight years ago.

Knihar’s memoirs were published in Czech with the title The Legion, My Life.

The French Foreign Legion is one of the most respected elite military units in the world. It was established as a unit of foreign volunteers in 1831 with the aim to protect the French colonies in Africa. The French Foreign Legion was fighting in both world wars as well as in the Indochina War (1946-54) and in the Gulf War (1990-1991). In the past few years, its members took part in the missions of the U.N. peacekeeping forces and were deployed in Afghanistan.

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