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France's president announces "major turning point" in defense relations with Africa

France's president announces "major turning point" in defense relations with Africa

All France's defense accords with African countries were being re-negotiated, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters Thursday, calling the move a "major turning point."
Sarkozy, speaking at a news conference shortly after arriving on a state visit to South Africa, promised more details during a speech later Thursday before the South African parliament.
He said the African heads of state involved already had been informed and proposals for changes made "through quiet diplomacy ... paving the way for complete review of all our defense agreements in Africa. We will be publishing the details of all these defense agreements as we have signed them with our partners."
He said the existing agreements were outdated. "We are now in 21st century as opposed to 20th century."
Earlier, Johannesburg's The Star newspaper had quoted Sarkozy as saying France no longer needed "to play a policing role in Africa," where it was once a major colonial power, but where it today is often accused of propping up dictators and ignoring cronyism and corruption.
Policing was a role for the African Union and regional African organizations, and France would help those organization play a more active decisive role in peacekeeping, the French leader told The Star.
France has thousands of troops at four military bases in Africa, the largest at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. The other bases are at Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and in Senegal and Gabon in West Africa. France has also troops in Ivory Coast, Chad and Central African Republic.
Sarkozy arrived in South Africa after a brief stopover in Chad, an oil-rich, coup-prone former French colony that has been beset by low-level insurgencies for nearly a decade, and never known real democracy.
When rebels besieged Chad's capital earlier this month, French forces helped evacuate foreigners and gave logistical support to the government, including transporting munitions from Libya. France even said it was prepared to intervene directly if necessary, but Chad's government survived the crisis without that.
In addition, France is playing a key role in a planned 3,700-strong peacekeeping force, known as EUFOR to protect refugees from Darfur and others caught up in the turmoil along Sudan's borders with Chad and the Central African Republic.
France's relationship with leaders in its former colonies had benefited both sides, with France receiving support at the United Nations from African regimes and access to the continent's natural resources. African leaders in turn have reaped aid and some might not have survived without French military backing.
Sarkozy, who was elected in May, has insisted that he wants a "healthier relationship" with Africa.
His visit to South Africa, which was never a French colony, may provide a model for the relationship he seeks. Sarkozy and his new wife Carla Bruni were greeted upon arrival in South Africa Thursday by President Thabo Mbeki for talks likely to include the bid by French company AREVA to build South Africa's second nuclear reactor.
Sarkozy is accompanied by 40 French business leaders including chief executive officer Ann Lauvergeon of AREVA, which built South Africa's Koeberg nuclear power plant.
South Africa is suffering from energy shortages that have badly hurt its mining sector, and sees the expansion of its nuclear energy program as the way to solve the crisis in the long term.
South Africa's foreign ministry said the talks also would aim to boost French investment in the areas of transport, energy, automotive and aeronautics.
On foreign issues, the leaders were likely to discuss the crises in Sudan and Chad. Sarkozy also was to tour Robben Island and meet Nelson Mandela.