Ivory Coast chief signs defense pact with France

January 26, 2012 - 3:35 PM
France Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast President Alassane Dramane Ouatarra's wife, Dominique Ouatarra, center, pay their respects at the unknown soldier's tomb, the Arc of Triomphe, in Paris, Thursday Jan. 26, 2012. President Ouattara is on a three day official visit in France. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS (AP) — The presidents of France and Ivory Coast met Thursday after the African leader arrived here for a three-day visit that included the signing of a defense pact in the wake of post-election violence in his country.

Alassane Ouattara has faced calls from France to punish militias supportive of him who engaged in violence during a standoff that followed the 2010 vote — an episode that left more than 3,000 people dead and kept him out of the presidency for seven months

More than 2,000 French soldiers were in Ivory Coast at the height of the crisis, backing U.N. forces. Under a new accord, up to 300 are expected to remain at a base outside Abidjan, the west African country's economic capital. The new accord replaces a 1961 agreement.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy, Ouattara thanked France for its military support during the "particularly horrible" conflict, and appealed for French investors "to come back to Ivory Coast."

Sarkozy was on hand when Ouattara took the oath of office in May. Now, Ouattara's predecessor — Laurent Gbagbo — awaits trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the alleged crimes against humanity committed by his army in the standoff.

France, former colonial ruler in Ivory Coast, is maintaining aid to the country after so far injecting euro400 million ($525.8 million). About euro1 billion in debt is expected to be canceled.

Under a program for so-called Very Indebted Countries, a debt relief and development contract worth euro2 billion is expected to be concluded this year. It is aimed at fighting poverty, promoting educational and professional training and strengthening the rule of law.

Despite his international backing, Ouattara's failure so far to punish militias backing him who killed Gbagbo's supporters has cast a shadow over his rule.

France is encouraging the new president to take action so that peace and security are anchored in the country, an official close to Sarkozy said. The person requested anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly.

"Those who killed, whatever side they were on, will be judged," Ouattara said in an interview with the daily Le Monde's Thursday edition, a response he has offered in the past.

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Pierre-Yves Roger contributed to this report.