No repairs to Ivory Coast air force: France

26th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 26 (AFP) - France said Wednesday it had not allowed Ivory Coast military aircraft put out of action by French peacekeeping forces to be repaired to flying condition.

PARIS, Jan 26 (AFP) - France said Wednesday it had not allowed Ivory Coast military aircraft put out of action by French peacekeeping forces to be repaired to flying condition.

A foreign ministry spokesman backed a statement Tuesday by the UN operation in Ivory Coast that while it had approved the transport of four damaged military aircraft to Abidjan, subsequent repairs had not received a green light.

UN spokesman Hamadoun Toure, in remarks echoed by the French peacekeeping operation in the west African state, had said Saturday that permission had been granted for repairs to the modest fleet.

"It involves restoring them to flying condition, repairing the damaged planes, not rearming them," Toure said.

But on Tuesday Toure said the UN mission, known as ONUCI, had only given permission for the Ivorian military to take the planes from Yamoussoukro, the political capital, to Abidjan.

"That does not, to our mind, mean permission to repair the planes - only the UN Security Council has the authority to make those decisions," he said.

The planes, including two Russian-built Sukhoi-25 fighter bombers, were hit by French troops on the ground at Yamoussoukro airport on November 6 after an air strike on a French military base killed nine French peacekeepers and a US civilian aid worker.

The Sukhois which carried out the strike were taking part in an attack on rebels holding the north of the country in violation of a truce, and French President Jacques Chirac promptly ordered the destruction of the Ivorian air force.

Other planes were knocked out at Abidjan airport.

A Russian-built Mi-24 helicopter gunship and a British Aerospace Strikemaster ground-attack aircraft, which were also at Yamoussoukro, were flying to Abidjan under their own power, but the two Sukhois will have to be taken by road.

French foreign ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said Wednesday there was "no question" of repairing the aircraft, when asked if such a move would not infringe a UN arms embargo imposed in November.

The UN Security Council on November 15 imposed a 13-month ban on arms sales to all the protagonists in the conflict in the world's top cocoa producer.

But Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo's defence and security adviser said in an interview published Wednesday that the government had "a duty to repair what we bought at a high price."

"It is quite normal for the state to recover its aircraft and return them to base to restore them," Kadet Bertin told the pro-government Courrier d'Abidjan daily.

"These planes are the property of the state of Ivory Coast and under the control of our armed forces. They are returning to base ... to be repaired," he said.

He denied either that they would be under the control of UN or French peacekeepers, or that they would be used to resume military operations against the rebels.

France's 4,000-strong Operation Unicorn has been keeping the two sides apart in Ivory Coast since shortly after a failed coup by renegade troops against Gbagbo in September 2002 split the country in two.

ONUCI has deployed some 6,000 peacekeepers since April to bolster a flagging French-brokered peace pact but has failed to soothe tensions and reconcile the divided state, evoking fears that elections set for October this year will not be held as planned.


Subject: French News

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