Ouattara, Sarkozy sign security deal in Paris
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Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a security deal on Thursday to ensure French forces offer training and equipment to the former colony without interfering in its internal affairs.
AFP - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara met his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy Thursday to cement ties with Paris less than a year after French troops helped oust his predecessor.
After hour-long talks and the signing of a joint security agreement, Sarkozy vowed France would support Ouattara in rebuilding and reconciliation efforts in the cocoa-rich former French colony.
France will "help Ivorians to rebuild their country, ensure security for all and give a future to all young Ivorians," Sarkozy said at a joint press conference with Ouattara.
The security agreement will see French forces in the West African country focus on training local forces and ensure they do not interfere in internal policy, the two leaders said.
"This agreement shows that France stands at the side of Ivory Coast in its quest for security (and) that the French army is not to interfere, from near or far, in the affairs of Ivory Coast... This period is definitely over," Sarkozy said.
"This treaty is totally transparent, with the emphasis on training, on equipment," Ouattara said.
"France continues to need Ivory Coast and Ivory Coast also needs France, but of course we want Ivorians to deal with problems in Ivory Coast," he added.
France was a key ally of Ouattara after former leader Laurent Gbagbo refused to stand down despite losing a November 2010 presidential election. Around 3,000 people died in the ensuing violence.
A final push to Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan by pro-Ouattara forces 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.
Ouattara thanked Sarkozy for the intervention, saying: "Thanks to your courage, the majority of Ivorians saw a happy conclusion to this situation."
Still, sources in the French presidency said that behind the scenes Paris was concerned about reconciliation in Ivory Coast.
"The situation is better than it was a few months ago, but this is going to be a long process," one said.
Sources raised particular concern about an election last month that saw Ouattara's allies secure a vice-like grip on parliament after an election boycotted by Gbagbo's followers.
"It would have been better if Laurent Gbagbo's supporters were represented. Clearly this is not the best option," a source said. "But President Ouattara does want to glue the pieces together, he must be given credit."
Tensions in the 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.
Ouattara will meet 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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