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War crime suspect takes offensive

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Accused war crimes suspect Maurice Papon took the offensive Friday, calling one of his main accusers a "counterfeiter" after two Resistance heroes testified on his behalf.

Papon, a top Bordeaux police official under the collaborationist Vichy regime, is charged with signing arrest orders that led to the deportation of 1,690 Jews from this southwestern French city. He said a 1942 document used as evidence by the prosecution was false."It's the file of a counterfeiter, and I will bring the proof," Papon said.

Michel Slitinsky, a plaintiff who discovered the documents that launched the case against Papon 16 years ago, "is a counterfeiter," Papon said, triggering angry murmurs in the courtroom.

Slitinsky, who at 17 narrowly escaped a Papon-ordered raid and whose father died in a Nazi death camp, found an arrest order signed by Papon in July 1942. Prosecutors used the document to show Papon, now 87, was in charge of "Jewish questions" as deputy prefect of the region encompassing Bordeaux.

"This note was used to fabricate a falsehood," Papon said.

Prosecutor General Henri Desclaux rejoined, declaring Papon's comments about Slitinsky inadmissible.

Papon went on to attack what he called "the methodology" of the investigation into his role in the deportations.

"I have the impression that they searched in the archives for all the documents carrying the signature of Maurice Papon, because he is the designated victim," said Papon, who rose to top levels of government after the war.

Earlier, two wartime members of the French Resistance, testifying for Papon, told the court they did not understand why he was being tried.

Bernard Vaugon, 87, said he was "perplexed" that Papon was on trial for war crimes because the French did not know the Jews were being deported to their deaths.

The question of how much the Vichy French knew about German plans to exterminate the Jews has been at the heart of the Papon trial, which has been treated as a chance for France to re-examine its wartime past.

About 76,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were deported from France to Nazi death camps during World War II; only about 2,500 survived.

Vaugon was a prefect when the Vichy regime began but was forced to go underground after a Vichy newspaper denounced him as a "notorious" follower of Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

"France committed errors and mistakes. That's certain," Vaugon said. "I am not hostile to the manifestation of the truth, but with Maurice Papon, we're going down the wrong road."

Another Resistance figure and former prefect, Andre Bergerot, echoed previous testimony by Papon, saying Papon was not responsible for the arrests because he was carrying out the orders of the then-prefect, Maurice Sabatier.

"Maurice Papon was not responsible since it was the prefect who was responsible," he said. "There's only one authority in a prefecture. That's the prefect."

Prosecutor Marc Robert responded by turning to Papon and asking if he ever asked the late Sabatier - who died in 1992 - to be relieved of his responsibilities for "Jewish questions."

"I am not going to confide in you what was said between Maurice Sabatier and me," Papon said.