France to cut Ivory Coast fighting force to 900 troops


France will reduce the number of troops it keeps stationed in Ivory Coast to 900 from the current 1,700 following the removal from power of Laurent Gbagbo, France’s defence minister said on Wednesday.

Gerard Longuet told a parliamentary hearing that French and Ivorian troops were patrolling the streets of Abidjan to ensure the rule of law, but that France would not seek to maintain a permanent fighting force in the cocoa-exporting nation.
“This Licorne force will … rapidly be drawn down to its size before the crisis, that is to say it will be reduced to 900 from 1,700,” Longuet told a National Assembly defence commission.

With Alassane Ouattara now in power after the arrest of Gbagbo on Monday, Longuet said that France would seek to renegotiate defence agreements with the new administration and ultimately take on a reduced military role in Ivory Coast.
“That is why Licorne will ultimately disappear and 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.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Tuesday that France would not stay in Ivory Coast over the long-term.

Longuet did not specify when French soldiers, who took part in the final assault against Gbagbo’s residence on Monday but allowed Ivorian troops to arrest him, would leave Ivory Coast.

Gbagbo held onto power for months after U.N.-certified election results showed him to be the loser of a November presidential race against Ouattara, who has now received oaths of loyalty from his rival’s military commanders.

Longuet addressed allegations that a French officer had accepted the surrender of Gbagbo’s military commander — a sensitive issue as excessive French involvement in Ivorian affairs could be used to discredit the new president.
“I can tell you with absolute certainty: Laurent Gbagbo surrendered to Ivorians,” he said, adding that the bodies of two French soldiers who disappeared during the fighting had not yet been found. There were no other French casualties.