France to scale back overseas troops

French Defence Minister Herve Morin has announced that the country's overseas military presence will be trimmed in areas of less need, such as Bosnia and parts of Africa. The goal is to save €100-150 million annually.


REUTERS - France plans to cut its overseas
forces from 13,000 to 10,000 troops this year by reducing its
role in missions in the Balkans and Africa, the French defence
minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday.


French peacekeepers are active in missions from Afghanistan
to Haiti, but the minister said some operations would be trimmed
to fit changing needs and a tighter budget.


The lower house of parliament was due to vote later on
Wednesday on extending the mandates of some of France's foreign
operations, including its participation in the European Union's
EUFOR force in Bosnia.


"I think the operation in Bosnia doesn't make sense
anymore," Defence Minister Herve Morin told newspaper
France-Soir, referring to the European Union peacekeeping
mission that took over from NATO in 2004.


Ethnic tensions still plague Bosnia, which was divided into
a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat entity after the Bosnian war,
but Morin said the country now needed military trainers rather
than peacekeeping troops.


The extent of France's involvement in international
peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Chad, Central African Republic
and Ivory Coast are also under review, he said.


"What counts is to know if there is the need to sustain this
level of forces," he was quoted as saying. "If at the same time
we can save some money for the country, all the better."


France's overseas operations cost some 900 million euros
($1.19 billion) a year, of which 300 million euros are consumed
by the mission in Afghanistan, which will not be cut back, he
said. He expected the reduction of troops elsewhere to save 100
to 150 million euros a year.


The lower house is scheduled to vote on extending the
mandate for operations in Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Lebanon, Chad and
Central Africa Republic, as well as EUFOR.


France is shaking up its defence strategy abroad and at
home, trying to make its armed forces more efficient and
flexible to respond to new threats such as global terrorism.


President Nicolas Sarkozy said last year France would
renegotiate all its defence cooperation agreements with African
countries, some of which are among its closest allies. Under
such agreements, French forces can sometimes intervene directly
in an internal conflict.

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