France, Ivory Coast relations tattered and torn

8th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 8 (AFP) - After a weekend of bloodshed in Ivory Coast, France was left pondering Monday how - and whether - to rebuild its shattered relationship with President Laurent Gbagbo.

PARIS, Nov 8 (AFP) - After a weekend of bloodshed in Ivory Coast, France was left pondering Monday how - and whether - to rebuild its shattered relationship with President Laurent Gbagbo.

The already tense relations between the Ivorian leader and the government in Paris hit crisis point on Saturday, when Ivorian air force jets bombarding rebel positions in the north of the country struck a peace-keeping encampment and killed nine French soldiers.

Acting under instructions from President Jacques Chirac, French military commanders hit back and destroyed most of the Ivorian air force. That provoked anti-French riots in the main city Abidjan which led to the deployment of hundreds of extra French troops in its former west African colony.

On Monday both sides appeared willing to give time for the situation to return to calm.

The chief of the French armed forces General Henri Bentegeat said that after the Ivorian attack and the French military riposte Paris considered the matter closed, while Chirac said the sole objective of the French deployment had been to protect French civilians.

Meanwhile Gbagbo issued a statement appealing for calm and order. "I call on (the population) not to give in to provocation and on all demonstrators to return to their homes. All aggression against foreigners living in Ivory Coast is to be avoided ... they are not our enemies," he said on television.

However the breakdown in mutual trust, France's destruction of the Ivorian government's main military advantage over the rebels, who have held the northern half of the country since a failed uprising against Gbagbo in 2002, and the fierce anti-French emotions apparent in the Abidjan mob all made a return to the status quo ante highly problematic.

"Jacques Chirac and Laurent Gbagbo on the brink of breakdown," headlined the conservative daily Le Figaro in its coverage of the Ivorian crisis.

There was also growing concern in Paris for the more than 5,000 French troops in the country, as well as the estimated 14,000 French nationals. The foreign ministry in Paris said that though there were no reports of French deaths during the weekend's violence, two people were missing.

French forces are taking part in a UN mission to secure a ceasefire line that runs through the centre of the country, separating government forces, in control of the south, and rebels who hold the north.

But the French military presence has been condemned by both sides in the civil war, each accusing France of backing the other's interests.

In an editorial, Le Figaro said it was time for France to have an open, democratic debate about the reasons for its deployment in Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, which was France's star colony in west Africa and regarded until recently as a beacon of stability and economic success in the troubled region.

"Hardly anyone in France understands what are our short-, medium- or long-term policies in Ivory Coast," it said.

"Do we want to re-occupy our former colony to impose democracy... Do we more modestly want to consolidate a ceasefire line, or will we be content merely to protect what remains of French interests? No-one knows," it said.

The newspaper blamed the lack of discussion on the French anomaly which makes foreign policy the "private domain" of the president.

"It is high time France became a grown-up democracy capable of debating serenely and publicly the big international issues that affect its future," the paper said.


Subject: French News

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