French foreign minister mulled resigning over Roma round-up

30th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner admitted Monday that he had considered resigning over President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to deport thousands of Roma Gypsies.

Kouchner, a former Socialist and renowned humanitarian who was recruited into Sarkozy's right-wing government in 2007, said he had a "heavy heart" but had decided to remain in government to fight his corner.

"I'm not happy with what has happened. I've been working with the Roma for 25 years. I'm not happy about this polemic," he told RTL radio. "What can I do to help the situation? Resign? I've thought about it.

He said he had decided to remain in office and to push for more to be done to find a solution to the problem of the Roma, adding: "It's important to keep going. To go would be to desert my post, to accept what's happening."

Earlier this month Sarkozy touched off a storm of international criticism by announcing that police were to raid and dismantle 300 unauthorised Gypsy encampments across France following a public order incident.

While French-born Gypsies and travellers are to be moved on, Eastern European Roma who can not demonstrate they have sufficient means to integrate into mainstream French society are to be flown back to Romania and Bulgaria.

Those who agree to go voluntarily are given small cash grants, those who do not are expelled by judicial order.

Kouchner was one of the founders of the global medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), who made his name helping refugees, in particular the Vietnamese "boat people".

As the United Nations' chief representative in Kosovo between 1999 and 2001, he tried to shield the former Yugoslav province's Roma and Ashkali Gypsy minorities from ethnic violence.

Now, his own French government is itself the target of United Nations criticism, over a policy which a UN anti-racism panel warned could amount to an illegal collective deportation of a minority group.

Sarkozy's government fiercely denies the charge, insisting that the expulsions are carried out in line with European Union residency laws and France's international treaty obligations.

© 2010 AFP

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