France against use of force in Ivory Coast: minister
A French government minister said on Tuesday that Paris would never advocate the use of force to oust Ivory Coast's embattled strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
"France is not calling and will never call for the use of armed forces" to end the stand-off between Ivory Coast's two rival presidents, Cooperation Minister Henri de Raincourt told a press conference in Ouagadougou.
"France will under no circumstances advocate violence," he said after meeting with Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore.
"Don't count on France to decide for Ivorians and for Africans."
Ivory Coast, a former French colony, has been plunged into political paralysis since the November 28 presidential election which both incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara claim to have won.
Ouattara, who has been recognized by France and the international community as the winner, has repeatedly urged a targeted military operation to depose Gbagbo. The west African economic bloc ECOWAS initially threatened military action.
But amid divisions within its ranks, the African Union opted for a peaceful solution and tasked a panel of five heads of state to find a binding solution by the end of February.
The panel, made up of the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, South Africa, Mauritania and Tanzania, sent a team of experts on an exploratory mission to Ivory Coast.
The experts, who met representatives of the two rival sides Monday but not Gbagbo and Ouattara, are due to stay until Thursday and draw up a report for their bosses.
France "fully backs" the mediation by the high-level AU panel and wishes it can come up with a "positive outcome," said de Raincourt.
On Saturday, thousands of Gbagbo supporters rallied in Abidjan against the presence of Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore on the panel.
Gbagbo loyalists claim that the Burkinabe leader covertly supported a failed 2002 uprising against Gbagbo that effectively split Ivory Coast in half.
© 2011 AFP