French to hand airport back to Ivorian forces


The French military said it would hand control of Ivory Coast’s main airport back to national armed forces as fighting in the West African state dies down.

French soldiers backing the UN mission in Ivory Coast had taken the airport during heavy combat in Abidjan between fighters loyal to Laurent Gbagbo and those loyal to internationally backed President Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo was arrested last week, Reuters reports.
“Essentially, tomorrow we will return control of the airport installations, which were in our control for reasons of security, back to Ivorian authorities,” Commander Frederic Daguillon, spokesman for the French Licorne force, said.

Ouattara’s government has said it is also hoping for a restart of port operations and banking activity in the coming days as authorities seek to revive the war-shattered economy — once French West Africa’s brightest.

Ivory Coast is the world’s top grower of cocoa and one of a handful of sub-Saharan African countries with a Eurobond.

Gbagbo, who had led the nation since 2000, refused to cede power after losing a November election to Ouattara, sparking a power struggle that killed more than 1,500 people and displaced more than a million.

Former rebels from Ivory Coast’s 2002 civil war rallied to Ouattara’s side and reached Abidjan in late March before capturing Gbagbo in his official residence with the help of French and U.N. forces.

The head of Gbagbo’s political party late on Saturday called on Gbagbo supporters to lay down their guns amid efforts to disarm militias still active in parts of the country.
“In the name of peace, and on behalf of our country, let us stop the war,” Pascal Affi N’Guessan told a news conference.

Gbagbo is under house arrest in the country’s north.