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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

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a major overhaul of his nation's policies toward Africa on Thursday, saying that its military agreements were outdated and it had no interest in keeping its forces permanently on the continent.
Sarkozy told the South African parliament that he would re-negotiate all defense agreements dating to the end of the colonial era in the 1960s. France is often accused of propping up African dictators and ignoring cronyism and corruption. In future, relations would be more open and transparent, Sarkozy said.
"Defense agreements must reflect the Africa of today and not yesterday," he said, describing many of the existing contracts as "obsolete."
"We are now in the 21st century as opposed to the 20th century."
"It is unthinkable that the French army should be drawn into domestic conflicts," Sarkozy said. He said the new policy marked a "major turning point" for the former colonial master.
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 did not say whether any of the bases will be closed, although French media have speculated that this may happen.
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 has 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 and protecting the airport.
Critics say French intervention helped support a bad regime. But Sarkozy emphasized that he did not authorize French troops to get involved in the fighting or shoot any Africans and said this was "unprecedented" and indicative of future policy.
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.
Sarkozy said that in future France also wanted to pay greater attention to human rights and democracy, describing delays in free and fair elections in Ivory Coast and Chad as "unacceptable." The same applied to Zimbabwe, he said.
France's relationship with leaders in its former colonies has 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.
"Africa must take on its own security issues and problems," he said. 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 said.
Sarkozy announced an initiative to mobilize euro2.5 billion (US$3.8 billion) in new investment in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years. He said this would finance 2,000 companies and help create 300,000 new jobs.
The French leader stressed that the country's relationship with South Africa, never a French colony, should serve as a model for the new African relationships. At a news conference and in his speech he kept emphasizing the strength of ties and depth of consensus _ and the invaluable role that South Africa plays on the world stage.
Sarkozy's new wife, model Carla Bruni, watched his speech from the public gallery. She visited an employment project for women in the impoverished township of Khayelitsha, and was due to join him at a visit to an AIDS clinic. She met on Wednesday with the wives of opposition leaders in Chad who have disappeared.
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 and has bid against a consortium led by Westinghouse Corp. of the United States to build a second one.
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.
Sarkozy said he would send a team of French engineers in the coming days to try to help South Africa overcome its energy problems, but stressed that this was unrelated to the AREVA bid.
The two presidents also signed a number of bilateral agreements covering energy, transport, science and tourism.


Updated : 2021-05-17 18:02 GMT+08:00