UNITED NATIONS - France is coming under fire for its heavy-handed action in
destroying virtually the entire air force of its former colony Côte d'Ivoire
in retaliation for the killings of nine French soldiers and a U.S. aid worker
"We deeply regret the unfortunate incident," Ambassador Philippe Djangone-Bi
of Côte d'Ivoire told reporters Tuesday. "But France was wrong in its unilateral
reprisal," he added.
He said his government wants the Security Council to make a pronouncement about
"our right as a sovereign nation."
"We love France, it is a friendly country," said Djangone-Bi, but its troops
had no right to "fire at our presidential palace, destroy our forces, humiliate
us, and shoot at our civilians from helicopters."
Asked to respond, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere told reporters
Tuesday the Ivorian Armed Forces carried out "a deliberate attack" on French
"France had the right to retaliate. No one [in the Security
Council] questioned us. This is not an issue," he added.
French President Jacques Chirac's decision to destroy the Ivorian Air Force
was "widely supported by the Security Council," de La Sabliere added.
As part of a combined French-UN peacekeeping force, Paris has more than 4,500
troops in Côte d'Ivoire, where a civil war has partitioned the territory
into a government-held south and a rebel-held north.
The UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), created by the UN Security
Council in April 2004, has a military strength of over 6,000 peacekeepers. But
in an unusual arrangement, French troops have the right to act alone and do
not come under the military authority of UNOCI.
The two forces are mandated to monitor a May 2003 cease-fire and peace agreement
that was signed by the rebel forces and the government of President Laurent
"The French should not be in Côte d'Ivoire," says Bill Fletcher
Jr., executive director of Washington-based TransAfrica Forum.
"There should be either a United Nations force or an African Union [AU]
force. The French clearly have an interest in retaining their role as the hegemonic
power over their former colonies," Fletcher told IPS.
Côte d'Ivoire gained independence from France in 1960.
Fletcher also argued that ethnic tensions in the West African nation have been
additionally "manipulated by opportunist forces who are more interested
in power than in national unity."
South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mandated by the AU and the Economic
Community of West African States to visit the Ivorian capital of Abidjan and
mediate the 2-year-old civil war.
He is expected to bring Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouatarra to the
negotiating table, along with Gabonese President Omar Bongo and the president
of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, both heads of state of neighboring countries.
Gbagbo has accused France of favoring the rebel forces and undermining his
position ahead of elections in 2005.
"It is unfortunate and a grave miscalculation that Gbagbo's regime launched
its surprise air raids in an attempt to retake the rebel-held north, which killed
nine French soldiers and one American, violating the year-old ceasefire accord,"
says Kwame Akonor, executive director of the New York-based African
He said it is not surprising that France's counterattack "which
included the destruction of Côte d'Ivoire's newly built-up air force and
securing strategic control of the country's largest cities" is raising
concerns about the European power's real motives, "given its checkered
history and entrenched interests in its former colony."
On Saturday, the 15-member Security Council condemned Côte d'Ivoire's
fatal attack against French forces.
"The Security Council expresses its full support for the action undertaken
by French forces and UNOCI," said a statement by U.S. Ambassador John Danforth,
the council's current president.
France, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, is pushing
for stronger action, including military sanctions and a travel ban on Côte
d'Ivoire government officials.
A resolution calling for such measures is expected to be adopted before the
end of this week. But it will give the two parties till Dec. 1 to implement
the ceasefire and the peace agreement before coming into force.
Akonor said French concern over developments in its former colony is not simply
politically motivated: Côte d'Ivoire has long been the key investment
platform for French companies in West Africa.
France, he said, is Côte d'Ivoire's biggest single trading partner, defense
supplier, and bilateral aid donor. Paris also has military bases in the African
"Given its political, economic, and military interests in the country,
some genuinely wonder if France can function as a neutral peacekeeper,"
This perception is not helped by the fact that French troops constitute 40
percent of the current UN peacekeeping force, and operate independently of it,
"Anti-French sentiment was further stoked in Côte d'Ivoire when a dozen
French peacekeepers were arrested and charged in September with stealing money
from a local bank," said Akonor.
He suggested that if the UN deployment is to be credible and effective, "then
the composition of its force must reflect its principles of neutrality and impartiality."
The Ivorian ambassador told reporters his government had requested an independent
commission of inquiry to establish the facts of last weekend's attacks.
Asked if France was supporting rebel forces in Côte d'Ivoire, Djangone-Bi
said that by its recent actions, Paris was obviously seen to be favoring the
He also accused France of "rushing" for urgent Security Council action and
of dictating terms with its "powerful diplomacy."
"The house is not burning," said the ambassador. "Give Africa
a chance to resolve the problem."
(Inter Press Service)