French troops could stay in Ivory Coast: Chirac

3rd February 2005, Comments 0 comments

DAKAR, Feb 2 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac said Wednesday France was ready to keep its 4,000 troops in the Ivory Coast if asked by the country's leaders when the United Nations mandate for the peacekeeping operation expires in April.

DAKAR, Feb 2 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac said Wednesday France was ready to keep its 4,000 troops in the Ivory Coast if asked by the country's leaders when the United Nations mandate for the peacekeeping operation expires in April.

"It is not the UN who will say that, it's the African leaders starting with the Ivorian government," President Chirac told a joint press conference with his Senegalese counterpart, Abdoulaye Wade.

"If they want us to stay, we will stay, if they don't want us to stay, we'll leave.

"We are not in the process of conquering the Ivory Coast, we are trying to maintain a minimum of stability and democracy," Chirac said after arriving in Senegal at the start of an African tour.

The French troops from the 4,000-strong peacekeeping force known as Unicorn were brought in following an abortive coup against Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002 which ended with rebels holding the north of the country.

Since April 2004 it has been operating alongside more than 6,000 United Nations peacekeepers maintaining a fragile truce.

The truce was broken in early November when the Ivorian air force launched a series of strikes on rebel cities in the north. The last of the raids, targeting the central rebel headquarters of Bouake, killed nine French peacekeepers, along with a US aid worker.

The French retaliated swiftly and sharply, wiping out the Ivorian air force. That sparked days of violence, mainly in the capital Abidjan and other southern cities, orchestrated by Gbagbo loyalists and targeting French and other expatriates.

Some 8,000 foreign civilians fled the country, once a model of calm and stability in otherwise volatile west Africa.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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