China to lend two giant pandas to French zoo: director

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China and France have agreed a high-level deal for Beijing to lend two giant pandas to a French zoo for 10 years starting from early 2012, the zoo's director said on Wednesday.

The pair will be the first pandas sent to France since the death of Yen Yen in 2000, who was given to the country's former president Georges Pompidou in the 1970s along with another panda, who died shortly after arriving.

"Last Wednesday Chinese President Hu Jintao officially announced to (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy that he was entrusting the giant pandas to the Beauval zoo for a conservation and research programme," the director of the zoo in central France, Rodolphe Delord, told AFP.

He said an official agreement on the programme would be signed in the next few days between French and Chinese zoo officials in Beijing, after five years of negotiations.

The pandas will be sent from a breeding centre in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu by early 2012, he said.

China is famed for its "panda diplomacy" -- the use of endangered giant pandas as diplomatic gifts to other countries.

After years of top-level negotiations, a deal on the pandas was to have been announced at the G20 summit in the French resort of Cannes in early November, but the announcement was delayed as leaders dealt with more pressing matters.

© 2011 AFP

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