French army to stay in Ivory Coast

The French army will stay in former colony Ivory Coast for as long as the West African country's government and the international community wants it to, according to Chief of Defence Staff Henri Bentegeat.

    French troops have been accused of killing scores of protesters

    Military supporters of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo have accused French troops of killing scores of protesters when they used helicopters and tanks to quell rioting and protect French citizens in the main city Abidjan last month.
     
    They have demanded that Paris pull out about 5000 French troops stationed in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer which has been divided since a 2002 civil war.

    "France will maintain a military presence in Ivory Coast at the request of the Ivorian government, the United Nations and the African Union," Bentegeat told a news conference in Abidjan on Friday.

    South African President Mbeki is
    mediating in the Ivorian conflict

    "[We] don't have any national aim other than that fixed by the international community. We have no hidden agenda."

    Relations between France and the former economic jewel of Francophone Africa soured severely in early November when France wiped out the country's air force after Ivorian planes bombed a French military base, killing nine peacekeepers.

    Mobs rampaged through the streets of the economic capital Abidjan for several days, attacking foreigners and looting their homes and businesses, prompting more than 8000 mostly French expatriates to flee the country.

    Paris has said its soldiers killed about 20 people during the clashes as French troops rescued foreigners stuck in their homes. Ivorian officials say the figure is far higher. 

    Mediation backed

    Bentegeat, who refused to take questions on November's events, met with Gbagbo during his two-day visit as well as the head of the Ivorian army, Colonel Philippe Mangou, and the chief United Nations peacekeeper in the country, Abdoulaye Fall.

    "It is important in
    the framework of the plan proposed by the South African president that gestures are
    made on both sides"

    Henri Bentegeat,
    Chief of Defence Staff,
    France

    Gbagbo has criticised France for destroying his country's air force but has stopped short of calling for a withdrawal.

    Bentegeat said France fully backed the mediation of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been meeting government and rebel sides to speed progress on a French-brokered peace deal to reunite the country after its civil war.

    "It is important in the framework of the plan proposed by the South African president that gestures are made on both sides," Bentegeat said.

    "Legislation has been proposed by the Ivorian government. It is also important that the [rebel] New Forces commit themselves to the path of disarmament," he said.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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