France seeks new military deal with Africa
France wants a new deal with African nations where it is renegotiating defence pacts, aiming to boost the continent's peacekeeping capability, a top French general said.
"We are turning a new page, which is a win-win partnership," said General Bernard Commins, head of the French base in Gabon, which will be the only one left on Africa's Atlantic coast after the closure of a base at Dakar, Senegal.
Commins told AFP that French troops will train African armies and there will be "a long period of cooperation" aimed at creating peacekeeping forces, including an African Brigade.
"It's a partnership where our African comrades, with the help we bring and the work we do together, will manage to set up collective security systems to enable these countries to develop in stability and peace," he added.
"It's obvious that a stable Africa, an Africa that develops, evolves and moves on (...) is completely positive for us, the French, for us, Europeans," Commins said.
The French foreign ministry will organise the training of 1,000 African officers and other soldiers in France, while 1,400 will be trained in Africa, notably at the military college in Libreville.
On the ground, France is developing "operational" cooperation which will "provide a know-how ranging from dog-handling to running a mess hall," said Commins.
In 2010, 400 African soldiers are being trained at the Overseas and Foreign Centre for Warfare (CAOME) run by the French army at Cap Esterias, north of Libreville, where recruits work on patrols, handling live ammunition and teamwork.
"We learn a lot here," said Gabonese officer-cadet Emile Mebegame-Meguele, who was sweating after jungle training.
"It's rather special," added Alexis Tchanga M'vouendi, a second lieutenant in the Gabonese gendarmerie. "We are learning orientation and combat techniques."
Some trainees will join the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (Micopax), which draws forces from nine African countries. In addition to significant financial aid, France is training and supporting this African force, notably with a French detachment of about 230 soldiers at Boali.
At Camp Mpoko in the Central African capital Bangui, the Micopax base, Captain Cyril Mitnik commands an infantry unit which has trained "between 450 and 500 men" of the African force in intervention techniques and the use of military hardware, as well as other duties.
In a symbol of the new cooperation, several African contingents have been invited to to join this year's annual parade on France's national day, July 14, in Paris. This year also marks half a century of independence for many former colonies.
Carine Zato, 23, a private second-class in the Central African Republic's Republican Guard will be among those in the parade. "It's good, to go there, to see the Champs-Elysees, the sights. It will be my first trip to France," she said.
© 2010 AFP