PARIS, Feb 3 (AFP) – Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo arrived in Paris on Tuesday for a visit aimed at rekindling ties with France, which has played a key role in ending the 17-month Ivorian conflict and patching up rivalries in its former west African colony.
Gbagbo, whose country has been divided between the rebel-held north and government-loyal south since a rebellion in September 2002, was accompanied by a large delegation, including the minister for water and forestry, Assoa Adou, members of his party said.
They were greeted early Tuesady at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport by some 50 pro-Gbagbo supporters waving flags and shouting: “We want Gbagbo.”
Gbagbo was to have an hour-long meeting, followed by lunch, with Chirac.
France has troops stationed in its former colony in west Africa along the buffer zone that has cut from east to west through Ivory Coast since October 2002. In January 2003, the former colonial power brokered talks near Paris that resulted in a peace pact, which set up a unity government for Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo’s loyalists considered the French-brokered deal a humiliation and a sell-out for bringing rebels into the very government they had tried to overthrow.
Sunday, Gbagbo had talks in Abidjan with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, aimed at building on dialogue begun last November in nearby Gabon to rekindle warmer ties after a fury of anti-French violence sparked by the peace accords.
During his visit, the French foreign minister expressed confidence that a UN peacekeeping force would deploy “in coming weeks” to Ivory Coast.
The UN force is intended to lay the groundwork for elections next year and assist with the disarmament of rebels whose uprising in September 2002 plunged the world’s largest cocoa producer into chaos.
A Gbagbo opponent in France, Ibrahim Coulibaly, commented Tuesday that the president’s visit was “no bad thing if it’s about fully implementing the Marcoussis (peace) accords”.
In an interview published by the daily Le Parisien, Coulibaly also said “France helped avert a bloodbath in Ivory Coast”.
On December 16, Coulibaly asked French courts to quash a judicial inquiry into an allegation that he plotted a coup in Ivory Coast. He was arrested in August and freed in September, but is banned from leaving France.
Meanwhile, as Gbagbo began his trip to France, Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) accused teh Ivorian presidential guard of assaaulting three journalists in Abidjan on Saturday.
“The head of state should take action and call his troops to order,” RSF said in a statement.
The group said that presidential guards had beaten Ibrahim Diarra, a photographer from the opposition daily Le Patriote, in Ivory Coast’s capital Yamoussoukro during a ceremony to lay the foundation stone of a new presidential building.
They attacked Diarra as he photographed security agents who asked him who he worked for and found him in possession of a letter about an incident when he was covering a press conference by former rebels, RSF said.
Two other journalists, Le Patriote reporter Charles Sanga and Frank Konate of the daily 24 Heures, were attacked when they tried to help him.
“It’s not acceptable that presidential security members can lay into, with impunity, journalists covering an official event,” RSF stated. “Such acts only add to the climate of insecurity journalists work under in Ivory Coast.”
French reporter Jean Helene was shot and killed in Ivory Coast in October, as he waited outside police headquarters in Abidjan for the release of a group of opposition leaders. Ivorian police sergeant Theodore Seri was last month sentenced to 17 years behind bars for killing Helene.
Subject: France news