26 January 2012
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara was to sign a security agreement with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, less than a year after French troops helped oust his predecessor.
France was a key ally of Ouattara's after Laurent Gbagbo refused to stand down despite losing a November 2010 presidential election. Around 3,000 people died in ensuing violence in the former French colony.
A final push to Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan by pro-Ouattara former rebels backed by French and UN forces eventually toppled Gbagbo, who was taken prisoner and now faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
"I want to thank President Sarkozy and his government for the intervention they led in April under a United Nations mandate," Ouattara said in an interview Thursday with French newspaper Le Monde.
"Without France, there would have been in Ivory Coast a genocide worse than in Rwanda," he said.
Nevertheless, tensions in the cocoa-rich country linger. At least one person died at the weekend when a meeting in Abidjan of Gbagbo supporters was broken up by people described by some observers as Ouattara supporters.
France's Licorne (Unicorn) peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast has been reduced to 450 troops from 1,600 at the height of the crisis. It will soon be only 300-strong, tasked with training the Ivorian army.
Ouattara has asked for more troops, citing the rising threat of Islamist militants in other parts of Africa.
"France must remain in our country longer and in greater force," he told Le Monde. "I understand budget issues, but France must take into account the weakening of north Africa."
Ouattara was also to meet with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Friday.
Ouattara is not planning to meet with France's Ivorian community, which includes many Gbagbo supporters. Ouattara's troops are also accused of having committed atrocities during the conflict.
Sarkozy was the only Western head of state to attend Ouattara's swearing-in in May last year.
France's military involvement in Gbagbo's arrest was aimed at promoting democratic values in Africa but resulted in accusations that France was still acting like a colonial power.
Outside the oil sector, France is Ivory Coast's largest trading partner. The former colony is the biggest economy in French-speaking west Africa.
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