French President Jacques Chirac pledged Thursday to restore Africa to the heart of French diplomacy after a decade of gradual disengagement. President Chirac addressed African leaders meeting in Paris for a three-day summit.
President Chirac mixed praise for Africa's talent and possibilities, with calls for Africanleaders to get their political and economic houses in order.
Mr. Chirac said it was no longer acceptable to solve Africa's conflicts by force. But at the same time,he called on African states to crack down on problems such as arms trafficking and the plundering of natural resources, and to invest more in democracy and economic development.
The Franco-African summit comes at a time when world attention is focused on the growing possibility of war in Iraq and resultant divisions between European countries and the United States. Nonetheless, Mr. Chirac said, Africa was a top priority for France.
He said the continent would benefit from a boost in French development aid between now and 2007.
Earlier, Mr. Chirac shook hands with some three dozen African heads of state, including Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe has been criticized for his questionable human rights record, and protesters have demonstrated against his presence in Paris.
Among those not attending the summit was Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo. Both Mr. Chirac and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called on Mr. Gbagbo and Ivorian rebels to respect a peace agreement struck in Paris last month.
But Mr. Annan praised the progress toward peace elsewhere in Africa.
He sais, "Angola is now consolidating peace after three decades of war. In Burundi, Sierra Leone, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africans are showing a real determination to settle their conflicts with tangible results. That makes it all the more important for the international community to provide strong support for Africa's peacekeeping and peacemaking mechanisms and institutions."
Aid to Africa is expected to be a top item of discussion at June's G-8 summit in the French city of Evian.