Michele Alliot-Marie, the defence minister, said that Jacques Chirac, the president, is preparing measures to try to bring colonial veterans' pensions in line with their French counterparts.

According to the veterans ministry, those from France's former colonies currently receive only about 30 per cent of what French veterans are paid.

About 80,000 people from 23 countries are expected to benefit.

Alliot-Marie said: "Of course, this represents a relatively expensive cost, but I think it is worth it for the recognition we owe them."

Colonial soldiers fought for France in both world wars and about 300,000 soldiers from French colonies in North and West Africa and Indochina took part in World War II.

It is hoped that the decision will bring decades of inequality to an end, although some groups have voiced concern about the government's language.

When Hamalaoui Mekachera, the veterans minister, said that the government was "striving" for equality, the GISTI group for immigrants said they were wary of the word "striving" and demanded nothing less than "full and total" equality.

Human rights groups have pressed France to boost the colonial soldiers' pensions for years.

In 2002, the government raised them slightly, but the funds were adjusted to take into account the lower cost of living in their countries of residence.

Days of Glory

The announcement came two days before the French release of the film Indigenes (Days of Glory), a World War II saga about North African Muslims who volunteered to fight to help free France from Nazi occupation.

The movie's leading men collectively won the best-actor award at the Cannes film festival in May, and the film has highlighted this little-known chapter of French history.

The film closes with a critique of the low pensions of veterans from the former colonies.