France to keep troops in Ivory Coast: Sarkozy

21st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

France will always maintain troops in Ivory Coast "to ensure the protection of our citizens," not to prop up the new government, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday.

He was speaking to French expatriates on France's military base in the southern suburbs of Abidjan, after attending the inauguration of new Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara.

"We will always keep military forces here to ensure the protection of our citizens," Sarkozy said.

"Here we have thousands of our compatriots, their safety must be assured, and so there will be soldiers to do that, in agreement with the authorities of Ivory Coast."

But he added, "I want things to be clear: the French army is not there to ensure the stability of any government whatever, even a friendly one. It is the Ivorians who must choose."

The French contingent, dubbed Unicorn and currently numbering 1,100 troops, was sent in to Paris's former colony to keep the peace alongside UN forces when the country was divided in the wake of a failed coup against Ouattara's predecessor Laurent Gbagbo in 2002.

They backed Ouattara in last month's fighting that ousted Gbagbo, who had refused to stand down when results of presidential elections last November declared him the loser.

"It is not the job of the French army to support or intervene in the affairs of African states," Sarkozy said. "It is a new era."

© 2011 AFP

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