France stuck in Ivorian conflict
By Elizabeth Bryant
United Press International
Published August 22, 2005
PARIS -- The United States isn't the only country engaged in a sticky operation overseas, where the military is itching to get out. Consider the 4,000 French soldiers who have been stationed in conflict-torn Ivory Coast for nearly three years, where they are excoriated by both the government and rebels for allegedly backing the other side.
To be sure, the Ivory Coast is no Iraq. There is no Islamist insurgency or terrorist groups regularly kidnapping foreigners. There are no grand plans to reconstruct the country and turn it into a beacon of democracy.
There is also no growing public discontent in France against the Ivorian strategy of French President Jacques Chirac. Although the Ivory Coast generally remains a tenacious and annoying footnote to daily French news, it rarely makes front-page headlines.
And the numbers of French troops in the West African country pale beside some 138,000 U.S. troops and 25,000 Marines now stationed in Iraq.
Still, there is a lingering sense that Paris -- like Washington -- lacks an exit strategy in a seemingly endless conflict.
"We're not going to fight to stay there," an unnamed senior military officer told France's Liberation newspaper last month. "If we're asked to leave the country, we'll be out in three months."
The peacekeeping role tasked to French forces, along with some 6,000 United Nations troops also stationed in Ivory Coast, has become all the more difficult with a new threat to depose the country's controversial president, Laurent Gbagbo.
On Friday, former Army chief Mathias Doue vowed to use "any means" to remove Gbagbo from power. "If the international community refuses to commit to getting [Gbagbo] to leave quietly, I will do so by any means," Doue told Radio France International, in an interview.
The threat follows others leveled by another ex-Army staffer. Earlier this month, former armed forces spokesman, Jules Yao-Yao, accused militia groups allegedly linked to Gbagbo with gross human rights violations. And he called on forces still loyal to the Ivorian president to "not longer" obey commands, and to rid themselves of death squads.
The new destabilization threats come just two months before Oct. 30 presidential elections. On Saturday, Gbagbo gave the latest indication he would go ahead with the vote, in which opposition candidate Allassane Ouattara has been allowed to run. Ouattara was previously denied a spot as presidential contender on the grounds he was Burkinabe, and not Ivorian.
The complex question of nationality has dogged Ivorian politics since the death of former dictator Felix Houphouet-Boigny. It also lies at the heart of the country's three-year-long civil war, which has split the country into the rebel-controlled north, and the government-controlled south.
Now, analysts suggest the new defiance by former officers threatens to create a third schism -- between forces for and against Gbagbo in the south. And it offers troubling memories of similar troop discontent in September 2002 -- when a failed coup against Gbagbo unleashed the civil war.
Once one of West Africa's richest and most stable countries, Ivory Coast, is now torn by competing interests. More than 8,000 French -- who helped form the country's economic backbone -- have fled. And the French development agency estimates the country's economy will shrink a whopping 3.2 percent this year.
Riding partly on old grudges against its former colonial ruler, rife anti-French sentiment in Ivory Coast is also fueled by rumors in the country's economic capital, Abidjan, that Paris secretly authored the civil war. The alleged reason: To protect business interests the French government feared were being undermined by Gbagbo.
Not surprisingly, the rumors have been dismissed by French businessmen. "It's ridiculous," raged one unnamed executive for Ivoire Telecom, a subsidiary of the French telecommunications giant, France Telecom. After all, he noted, the Ivorian conflict has translated into a financial catastrophe for French businesses there.
As accusations fly, it's clear that Paris has lost its role as peace broker.
A truce struck by Ivorian rebels and the government in the French capital in 2003 has yet to be honored. And today, French forces are the butt of scorn and attacks by both sides of the conflict. Indeed, a government attack on French forces last year prompted Paris to obliterate the entirety of the country's minuscule air force.
Today, South Africa -- not France -- is spearheading the latest, shaky effort to usher in a lasting peace in Ivory Coast.
"Today, Paris has lost its hand," France's leftist Liberation newspaper wrote in July. "It's the South African President Thabo Mbeki, mandated by the African Union, which is trying to avoid the resumption of war in this old "window" to the French "pre-carre" in Africa."
But France's waning influence in its old colony does not mean that French forces will be able to extricate themselves from Ivory Coast any time soon.
There is, of course, the unlikely possibility that a credible opposition politician will trounce Gbagbo in the October elections, and find a political solution to the conflict. Besides Ouattara, former Ivorian president Henri Bedie has announced his candidacy.
The two men have struck a truce to back the other against Gbagbo, depending on who scores the most points in the first round of voting.
But few observers predict the Ivory Coast will find peace anytime soon. Some even doubt Gbagbo will ultimately honor the October 30 election date. Which means French forces will remain in the troubled Africa country for the foreseeable future.
Nuke the fucking place........the whole world will be better for it.
Bogged down in quagmire, no exit strategy....
I thought this was going to be another marriage/divorce thread.
And I thought it was going to be a DNC thread about getting rid of Dean....
Do you possibly have a link to that story? thanks.
And unless we've learned our lesson from that OTHER french war we took over, we'll find ourselves there, and the french gone.
Damned frenchies. Their "exit strategy" seems to be 'lets get our asses kicked so the US has to liberate us' or 'lets manuver the US into taking over this war and letting us leave'.