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Paris seeks to calm Australia fears over WWI battlefield wind farm

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The Bullecourt Memorial to Australian soldiers that died during WWI Wikipedia: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

A top French defence official spoke Friday with Australia's veterans affairs minister over concerns that a planned wind farm on the site of a World War I battlefield might desecrate unmarked Australian graves.


Deputy Defence Minister Genevieve Darrieussecq contacted the minister, Dan Tehan, after he said Wednesday he would seek "clarification" over the project.

French energy company Engie Green plans to erect turbines on the grounds of the former Bullecourt killing fields in northern France where some 10,000 Australians were killed or wounded in April and May 1917.

Many bodies were never found, and the planned site for the wind farm is a natural burial ground near the Bullecourt memorial that is visited regularly by Australian families.

Darrieussecq told Tehan that she "understood and shared his feelings", the ministry said in a statement following the phone conversation.

"She assured him that she would be personally involved in the search for a solution in keeping with the memorial character of the site and the respect due to the remains of soldiers who died in combat," the statement said.

The area was the scene of the heaviest Australian losses in the war during a battle that has become symbolic of the incompetence of British generals directing the campaign.

Speaking on Wednesday, Tehan said: "The French people, like the Australian people, understand the significance of this land and they have the utmost respect for the sacrifices made by Australian soldiers on their soil."

According to Sky News, the Engie Green proposal would involve digging for foundations. There would also be transmission tunnels, other earthworks and infrastructure, it said.