Senegal to 'take back' French bases

President announces symbolic move amid independence celebrations.

    A giant statue has been erected as part of Senegal's independence celebrations [REUTERS]

    Senegal is to has taken control of all French military bases in the country, Abdoulaye Wade, the president, has said.

    In a televised address on Sunday, Wade said that Senegal would begin talks with French authorities to discuss the logistics of the handover.

    "I solemnly declare that Senegal is taking back, starting April 4, all the bases on our soil previously held by France," he said.

    The largely symbolic move by the former French colony comes as Senegal celebrates 50 years since independence.

    The idea has proved popular with Senegalese.

    "I want the French soldiers to leave. Otherwise it is as if Senegal doesn't have its own army to insure its security," said Ousmane Fall, a thirty year builder taking part in independence festivities.

    But it is unclear what the next steps will be.

    "Discussions are continuing," Laurent Teisseire, a French defence ministry spokesman, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

    Military presence

    Wade's announcement comes weeks after Senegal and France agreed to a draw down of 1,200 French troops currently stationed on an airbase in the capital, Dakar.

    France has had troops in the country for the full 50 years since it became independent in 1960.   

    France is the only European country which still has a military presence in Africa, maintaining three major bases in Senegal, Djibouti and Gabon.

    Paris says it intends to preserve a "centre of military cooperation with a regional purpose" on the continent.

    President criticised

    In a letter to Wade on Friday, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said that his country remained "disposed to continue a policy of military, bilateral and regional co-operation in Senegal, in support of regional stability". 

    Ahead of his announcement on the French bases, Wade inaugurated a controversial monument to the "African Renaissance"featuring a giant man, woman and child that towers over the capital.

    Critics argue that the $28m statue was a waste of money in a country where many live in abject poverty.

    Wade has also come in for criticism after he suggested he should pocket a portion of the tourist revenue generated by the monument because it was his idea.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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