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France, Ivory Coast Move to Warm Relations

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy welcome Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara as he arrives for a state dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 26, 2012.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara is wrapping up a three-day visit to France to cement new defense and business ties, but most importantly to turn the page on years of bitter relations between the two countries.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara has been given the red-carpet treatment during his visit here in Paris. The Champs Elysees is awash with Ivorian and French flags and French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted him at a state dinner on Thursday night.

During a joint press conference at the Elysee Presidential palace, Sarkozy outlined the goal of a newly signed defense agreement between France and Ivory Coast.

Sarkozy said France will help Ivory Coast re-establish security, but the French army has no interest in meddling in Ivorian affairs. Under the defense agreement, French soldiers will train local forces.

That's a big difference from France's military presence in recent years. Thousands of French Licorne troops worked alongside United Nations peacekeepers to cool the decade-long conflict in the West African nation. Today, just a few hundred remain there.

Ties between Ivory Coast and its former colonial power plummeted during the conflict. French schools and businesses in Ivory Coast were attacked and thousands of French fled the country. Ouattara's predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, accused France of plotting his overthrow and his extradition to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

African analyst Alain Antil, of the French Institute of International Relations, says France and Ivory Coast are resuming their old, close ties. There is a strong friendship between the two presidents.

But Ouattara's has also been talking economics here. The Ivorian president met Friday with top French business leaders.

In remarks to reporters, he called on French businesses to return to Ivory Coast. The country is at peace now, he said, with economic growth expected to reach eight or nine percent this year. France is also throwing support behind Ouattara's bid for International Monetary Fund debt relief.

But while Sarkozy praises Ouattara's quest for peace and reconciliation in Ivory Coast, Antil says the story isn't over.

Antil says all parties to the conflict, including Ouattara's supporters, committed excesses during the conflict. There will be no peace or reconciliation in Ivory Coast if all the perpetrators are not judged.