PARIS (Reuters) - France’s Defence Ministry said it would take disciplinary action over a primary school “meet-the-army” workshop at which pupils aged 10 and under took part in an exercise with unloaded assault rifles.
But educational authorities, while summoning teachers to explain the incident at a village school in eastern France, suggested it had been more the result of a surfeit of enthusiasm than anything sinister.
The workshop might have gone unnoticed but for a photograph posted on social networks showing a dozen children lying flat out like soldiers, fingers on the triggers of Famas assault rifles.
Alerted by media coverage and the photograph, French Defence Ministry spokesman Pierre Bayle said disciplinary action would be taken. “The ministry firmly condemns this action,” he said.
Educational authorities also responded frostily, saying the school teachers involved had been summoned for questioning.
“This was a clear pedagogical error,” said Albert Jaeger, an official for the regional schooling administration to which the school reports. Sanctions were possible, he said.
Several army reservists took part in the event, designed to explain military life to young pupils at a school in Flastroff, a village with a population of around 300.
The children got to inspect armoured vehicles and taste soldiers’ food rations in addition to the session where they held unloaded rifles and automatic pistols.
Jaeger appeared to express some sympathy over the storm resulting from the exercise.
“According to the parents, nobody feels traumatised by the affair. What’s traumatising them is the media coverage it has generated.”
Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac and John Irish; Writing by Brian Love; editing by Ralph Boulton