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Military France Scales Back Ivory Coast Troops


The head of France's rapid-reaction force in divided Ivory Coast says French troops will begin scaling back its presence now that U.N. peacekeepers are fully operational. 

General Poncet says more than 1,000 French troops will leave before the end of next month, bringing total troop numbers down to about 4,000.

Several thousand extra French troops had been operating in Ivory Coast since November following aerial attacks by the Ivorian army in the rebel-held north and anti-French protests in the south.  The violence ended when French forces destroyed Ivorian military aircraft and fired on protesters.

General Poncet said the situation is no longer as alarming as it was in November.  He says the only way the situation could escalate again would be for government forces or rebels to directly attack the United Nations.

The brief resumption of war last year led to the evacuation of more than 10,000 foreign nationals.

General Poncet says U.N. peacekeepers have recently been given a more aggressive mandate to use force against any party threatening the cease-fire.  The so-called blue helmets number about 6,000.

General Poncet also said France was spending about $190 million per month for its peacekeeping efforts to prevent all-out civil war.  But supporters of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo accuse the former colonial power of deploying troops just to defend its economic interests.

Regional expert Alex Vines says what seems to work to end conflicts in West Africa is a combination of troops from a western power, African neighbors, and the United Nations.

"You do need a northern partner that is prepared to provide support, but likewise the Liberia success is really to do with the African Union,” he said.  “It was the African Union that vanguarded, or ECOWAS West Africa troops first of all spearheaded, the intervention into Liberia and then they put blue helmets on after that.  I think that has also got to be a possible lesson for Cote d'Ivoire."

The rebels have refused to disarm, saying Mr. Gbagbo is pretending to apply successive peace deals, but that nothing is actually being implemented.  The agreements would give more rights to many northerners now treated as foreigners. 

Rebels have recently said African Union lead mediator Thabo Mbeki seems to be favoring Mr. Gbagbo.  They have also refused to rejoin the power-sharing government, saying their security is not ensured in the government-held south.

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