'France out', demands Ivory Coast official

24th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Nov 24 (AFP) - Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo's government wants France to leave the UN-mandated peacekeeping force in the west African country, the ruling party's representative in Britain told the BBC Tuesday.

LONDON, Nov 24 (AFP) - Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo's government wants France to leave the UN-mandated peacekeeping force in the west African country, the ruling party's representative in Britain told the BBC Tuesday.

"We want France to leave," said Abdon Bayeto from the Ivorian Popular Front. "If France is there as a peacekeeping force, anyone can replace them."

When asked if Gbagbo's party felt that French troops were trying to harm Gbagbo during the recent wave of unrest, he said: "The proof is there.

"They shot some Ivorian (civilians) barehanded. We came as a human shield to protect the president. Today we've got 65 people dead.... Why would the French helicopter go and shoot randomly at the president's residential home? Why would they do that if they don't want to take him out?"

French troops are part of a peacekeeping force trying to enforce a ceasefire in a buffer zone separating rebel- and government-controlled sides of the former French colony. Paris also keeps a several-hundred-strong garrison in the economic capital Abidjan.

Bayeto said the ruling party had a problem with French President Jacques Chirac but not with the French civilians who fled by the thousands last week after mass riots in the cocoa giant.

"We're not having a problem with the French companies in Africa. The problem we're having is the policy of President Chirac in Africa.... What we're fighting for today is for France to leave the Ivorian people alone."

The party representative described Chirac's policy in Africa as "a sign of the recolonisation of Africa.... He's seeing the Ivory Coast as the prefecture, and he's like the governor. We have to change this policy."

And he described regional African leaders who have not come out in support of Gbagbo as being "puppets" of France. He declined to name them.

France, the broker of the Ivorian January 2003 accord that set up a power-sharing transitional government, provides the bulk of the force for the UN-mandated Operation Unicorn peacekeeping force.

French companies also employ up to a third of the workforce in Ivory Coast, according to the BBC.

Its troops retaliated earlier this month against an Ivorian air strike on its base in the central town of Bouake, a stronghold of the country's northern rebels, which killed nine peacekeepers and a US aid worker.

French troops seized the airport and wiped out the Ivory Coast airforce, triggering anti-French riots and leading to the evacuation of 9,000 mostly French expatriates.

The strike was one in a string of air raids over three days on positions in the rebel-held north, violating an 18-month-old ceasefire and killing at least 85 people according to an unconfirmed toll given by the rebel leadership.

Gbagbo said that during the riots 64 young people had been killed and some 1,300 injured "by the murderous bullets of French soldiers."

The United Nations Security Council, reacting to the recent Ivorian crisis, imposed a 13-month arms embargo in a bid to prop up the moribund peace process.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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