I. Coast leader in France to cement ties, pen security deal

AFP , Thursday 26 Jan 2012

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara to meet his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy to sign new security agreement, says without France, I. Coast would have seen massacre worse than Rwanda's

Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara waves upon his arrival at Orly airport, south of Paris, (Photo: Reuters).

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara was to meet France's Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday to cement ties between Paris and its ex-colony less than a year after French troops helped oust his predecessor.

Ouattara was to meet Sarkozy at 1600 GMT and the French president was to sign a new security agreement with the cocoa-rich West African country.

France was a key ally of Ouattara's after former leader Laurent Gbagbo refused to stand down despite losing a November 2010 presidential election. Around 3,000 people died in the ensuing violence.

A final push to Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan by pro-Ouattara forces backed by French and UN forces eventually toppled Gbagbo, who was taken prisoner and now faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Sources in the French presidency said Paris was looking to promote reconciliation in Ivory Coast after the political crisis.

"The situation is better than it was a few months ago, but this is going to be a long process," one of them said.

Sources raised particular concern about a parliamentary election last month that saw Ouattara's allies secure a vice-like grip on parliament after an election boycotted by Gbagbo's followers.

"It would have been better if Laurent Gbagbo's supporters were represented. Clearly this is not the best option," a source said. "But President Ouattara does want to glue the pieces together, he must be given credit."

Tensions in the country linger. At least one person died at the weekend when a meeting in Abidjan of Gbagbo supporters was broken up by people described by some observers as Ouattara supporters.

"I want to thank President Sarkozy and his government for the intervention they led in April under a United Nations mandate," Ouattara said in an interview Thursday with French newspaper Le Monde.

"Without France, there would have been in Ivory Coast a genocide worse than in Rwanda," he said.

France's Licorne (Unicorn) peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast has been reduced to 450 troops from 1,600 at the height of the crisis. It will soon be only 300 strong, tasked with training the Ivorian army.

Ouattara has asked for more troops, citing the rising threat of Islamist militants in other parts of Africa.

"France must remain in our country longer and in greater force," he told Le Monde. "I understand budget issues, but France must take into account the weakening of north Africa."

Ouattara was also to meet with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Friday.

Ouattara is not planning to meet with France's Ivorian community, which includes many Gbagbo supporters. Ouattara's troops are also accused of having committed atrocities during the conflict.

Sarkozy was the only Western head of state to attend Ouattara's swearing-in in May last year.

France's military involvement in Gbagbo's arrest was aimed at promoting democratic values in Africa but resulted in accusations that France was still acting like a colonial power.

Outside the oil sector, France is Ivory Coast's largest trading partner. The former colony is the biggest economy in French-speaking west Africa.

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