French hunters and gamekeepers have been requisitioned by regional authorities to help the police enforce the rules of the French lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
The operation was held for one weekend before being cancelled due to their “thin legal basis”, authorities said on Thursday.
They were requisitioned by the préfecture of Seine-et-Marne, an area south east of Paris, to “prevent and signal to the armed forces” any infraction to local lockdown rules, according to a decree released by the préfecture.
Hunters and gamekeepers were requisitioned at weekends only, operating on 3-4 April. A similar operation planned for the Easter weekend (11 to 13 April) was cancelled by the préfecture on Thursday.
“Due to their thin legal basis, the decrees have been removed and the operation will not be renewed in the coming weekends,” the Seine-et-Marne préfecture said in a statement.
“The word ‘hunter’ was inappropriate,” the prefect for Seine-et-Marne, Thierry Coudert, explained to Euronews. “They were sworn-in employees of the National Hunting Federation.”
“Private hunters and gamekeepers whose name is listed in the present document are requisitioned”, the préfecture’s decree read.
Gamekeepers and hunters were requisitioned to receive orders from the French National Forest Office or the local gendarmerie and police, the decree said.
The Seine-et-Marne préfecture said that the hunters who had taken part in the operation were “sworn-in experts from the Seine-et-Marne Departmental Federation of Hunters”.
“No fine was given during last weekend’s operation,” the préfecture said.
Philippe Birrer, a gamekeeper who works in and around the Nanteau forest in Seine-et-Marne, told Euronews he worked with the local gendarmerie last weekend to enforce rules of the lockdown after being requisitioned.
“I have been controlling people’s certificates and reminding them of self-isolation rules,” he said, adding that all requisitioned gamekeepers have to wear their uniform and carry the préfecture’s decree.
“The préfecture’s instruction was ‘zero tolerance’, but I didn’t give any fine. The people whose certificates I check are from the area, I know some of them. It’s not easy to fine your neighbour!”
Only the police and local gendarmerie agents were allowed to carry a gun, he said. “As a gamekeeper, I am allowed to carry my weapon to shoot animals, if they are dying and suffering. But as a requisitioned agent, I remind people of the rules, I don’t need a weapon for that.”
Birrer said that “far too many people are undisciplined” during the lockdown. For a weekend, he was requisitioned and could remind people of the rules ; but he said there are just as many who do not follow the lockdown instructions on weekdays, at which time he was powerless.
He said he has observed people riding horses, four-wheelers, or have a walk between friends (a walk between people living together is authorised).
“Now is not the moment to hurt yourself and go to the hospital,” he added. “We should be requisitioned during the week, too. The more people follow lockdown rules, the faster this will be over with.”
French people who do not respect the lockdown rules can be fined up to €175.
The prefect of Seine-et-Marne on Tuesday followed the Paris préfecture in announcing stricter rules in the coronavirus lockdown by banning jogging and cycling during the day.
The French government has allowed préfectures across France to set local rules in the country’s lockdown, which will be extended beyond 15 April for a yet undisclosed length of time.
The French Interior Ministry told Euronews that the requisition was “an initiative from the Seine-et-Marne préfecture” that was “not coordinated with the Interior ministry”.