France reduces troop numbers in Ivory Coast


France will reduce the number of its troops in the Ivory Coast from 900 to between 200 and 250, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced.

The announcement comes after a two-day visit by French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet, who met his Ivorian counterparts on Sunday.

Radio France Internationale (RFI) reports that France is re-evaluating its position in the Ivory Coast and although it is reducing the number of troops, the French army is expected to play an important role in the reorganisation of the armed forces following the departure of Laurent Gbagbo.

France earlier said that it would seek to take on a reduced military role in Ivory Coast and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in April that France would not stay in Ivory Coast over the long-term.

RFI notes that according to the White Paper on Defence, France should not keep a permanent base in Ivory Coast, but only 250-300 men with the purpose of training African forces and protecting French nationals.

At the height of the crisis in the Ivory Coast, which was precipitated by Gbagbo’s refusal to acknowledge electoral defeat by Alassane Ouattara, nearly 1700 French soldiers were deployed in Abidjan. French soldiers took part in the final assault against Gbagbo’s residence, but allowed Ivorian troops to arrest him.

In mid-April France announced it would reduce the number of troops in the Ivory Coast to 900. France’s defence minister Gerard Longuet said that that France would not seek to maintain a permanent fighting force in the cocoa-exporting nation. “The troop presence will be reduced to units ensuring cooperation, giving advice, training and monitoring – but certainly no longer a significant permanent presence,” he said.

However, Ouattara wants a continued French presence to train his forces and combat issues like drug trafficking and terrorism.