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France Appeals for Help in Resolving African Conflicts - 2003-06-13

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin appealed Friday for the international community to do more to resolve wars and other conflicts in Africa. Mr. de Villepin spoke at the start of a conference in the French capital on ways to better manage African crises.

The two-week Paris conference gathers civilian and military representatives from 46 African countries, along with international experts. Their topic is how to better manage and overcome crises in Africa.

A French-led multinational peacekeeping force is trying to restore order in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where ethnic fighting has killed hundreds of people in recent months.

In Liberia, rebels are attempting to topple the country's leader, Charles Taylor. Further north, Mauritanian President Maawiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya recently escaped a coup attempt. And south in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe continues to crack down on political dissidents.

In his address at France's top military academy, Mr. de Villepin said resolving African crises should be a priority of the international community.

Mr. de Villepin said France's own African policy would respect three principles: the legitimacy of power, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity. For their part, he said, African countries are faced with a myriad of challenges: from globalization - which risks increasing the gap between rich and poor - to endemic poverty and lack of democracy.

Mr. de Villepin called for regional and international solutions to African conflicts. Ivory Coast, Central Africa, Sudan and Congo are all examples, he said, where African countries have helped mediate local crises. He outlined new commitments toward Africa by the European Union, the United Nations and international financial institutions, and said France would increase its overall development aid to meet the United Nations' target of 0.7 percent of the national budget by 2012.

But some African diplomats at the conference said they remain skeptical about the level of French and international commitment to the continent. One Rwandan official, Ambassador Joseph Mutaboba, said that when it came to eastern Congo, for example, the newly arrived peacekeepers had little grasp of the complexities of the strife.