Côte d'Ivoire

France key to peace in Côte d'Ivoire, U.S. official says

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By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner told Congress February 12 that widespread bloodshed was averted in the recent rebellion in Cote d'Ivoire thanks to French intervention. Moreover, chances for a lasting peace had been heightened by a French-sponsored agreement signed by the warring parties in Marcoussis January 24.

Kansteiner made his comments to the House Africa Subcommittee conducting a public hearing on 'Prospects for Peace in Ivory Coast.' He pointed out that after a violent coup attempt last September that included the murder of former Ivoirian Army General Robert Guei, "Only the intervening presence of French military forces prevented the rebels from marching from Bouake, in central Cote d'Ivoire, to Abidjan."

Since fighting began, the French have been "truly driving" the peace process, Kansteiner told Subcommittee Chairman Ed Royce (Republican of California). And he added, "I think the Marcoussis framework has a good chance of working [because] it calls for a government of national reconciliation and forces Ivoirian political parties to address tough questions" like citizenship, land ownership and eligibility for the presidency.

Asked by Royce how committed he thought the French would remain to the peace process in their former colony, Kansteiner said, "My conversations with Paris would suggest they are in it for the long haul."

Kansteiner pointed out that France remained heavily engaged in Cote d'Ivoire because of the past. He told the lawmakers, "As you know, historically, Cote d'Ivoire has had a defense pact with France. In fact, if there was ever a national security threat [to Cote d'Ivoire], the French were obligated, by treaty, to come to Cote d'Ivoire's assistance. Hence the low level of preparedness by the Ivoirian Army...because they historically always rely on the French."

Thanks to French intervention, Kansteiner said, "I think the Marcoussis framework has a good chance of working." But he stressed that it was up to the Ivoirians to tackle the tough issues and bring about peace themselves.

Royce agreed, adding, "We all hope the recently signed Marcoussis Agreement is the beginning of this troubling conflict's end." However, he added a caveat. "It is hard for me to see how this French-backed peace plan is not a reward to rebels who fought their way to the negotiating table, and if the plan is followed, into legitimate positions of political power."

Kansteiner responded: "That is very much a concern for us...and that is not a signal we want to send to the rest of Africa or the rest of the world. So it requires some real diplomatic and constitution-writing skills to make sure that benefits that might occur to society do not occur because someone took up a gun."

Ranking Subcommittee member Donald Payne (Democrat of New Jersey) also praised France's intervention noting, "The involvement of the French Government, also through the use of troops, in its role in evacuating French citizens and other foreigners, and by hosting the peace talks has been key [to peace] as well." But he added, ""We need to make a clear message that you can't take power with the barrel of a gun. You can't support rule of law in one place and not in another."

As for U.S. aid, Kansteiner told the lawmakers, "We are actively helping the ECOFORCE [a deployment of peacekeepers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)] now both with financial support and also equipment [worth $1.5 million].

Asked by lawmakers if there was any proof that Libyan strongman Colonel Muammar Qadhafi or the al Qaeda terrorist network were supporting the rebels, Kansteiner said, "We have not seen any evidence" of a Libyan role in the conflict and "We have not seen any direct links [to al Qaeda] that I'm aware of."

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)