France/UN/Côte d’Ivoire – Libya/French role/NATO role
Q. – Thank you for joining us live this morning. So, after clinging onto power for four months, Laurent Gbagbo was arrested yesterday, taken out of his bunker by the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara’s army. So let’s cut to the chase: was it the UN and France who wanted the fall of Laurent Gbagbo?
THE MINISTER – The UN and France wanted the Security Council resolutions to be implemented: nothing more, nothing less. The latest of those resolutions called for the neutralization of the heavy weapons with which Gbagbo was firing on the Ivorian people, and that’s what we did, at the express request of Mr Ban Ki-moon, who wrote to President Sarkozy and asked him for the support of Licorne [French force in Côte d’Ivoire]. Our troops bombarded military targets, armoured vehicles and other heavy weapons. It was President Ouattara’s army, the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire, that subsequently intervened, entered the bunker and seized M. Gbagbo. All this was explained perfectly by the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff.
Q. – Despite everything, could Alassane Ouattara’s side really have arrested Gbagbo without the decisive presence of the French forces?
Ultimately, it was the French army that neutralized the heavy weapons .
THE MINISTER – Yes, of course, I’ve just told you that. We’re not going to rewrite history by asking “what if”. Let me remind you, though, that there were more UNOCI soldiers in Abidjan than French soldiers. So it was UNOCI at the helm, it was UNOCI helicopters that initiated the bombardments and – as requested of us – France came to give her support. I’d just like to stress that what’s happened today is an important phase, and I’m even tempted to say it’s good news. First of all for the Ivorians themselves, because they’re going to emerge from the spiral of civil war, for which Gbagbo bears responsibility. It’s also good news for democracy because it means that, in the 10 or so African countries where elections are being held in the coming months, we can be pretty sure the results of the democratic elections are respected.
That’s very important.
Q. – So we’re within the strict framework of UNSCR 1975?
THE MINISTER – Absolutely.
Q. – How do you respond this morning to all those who say France wanted Ouattara in power because Ouattara is close to the French government, in this case Nicolas Sarkozy?
THE MINISTER – Look, I think M. Gbagbo’s networks in France are still very powerful and his information – not to say propaganda – is extremely effective. We know those networks are very present in the Socialist Party. Let’s be very clear about things in France. There was an election, the international community wanted it for a long time, M. Gbagbo refused to hold it for five years. That election were finally held.
It produced a result that was validated by the United Nations, ECOWAS – that is, all Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbours – and the African Union; there was an absolutely unanimous position. It wasn’t France who started things, it was the international community, which said: “M. Ouattara is the legally elected President, he must take power and M. Gbagbo must go.” That’s how things happened. Everything else is serving an agenda, if I may say so.
NATIONAL RECONCILIATION/JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS
Q. – Last night we heard Alassane Ouattara saying on television that there must now be reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire. What does that involve, in your opinion, and does France have a role to play in that reconciliation?
THE MINISTER – Let’s be clear: it’s now up to the Ivorians to take control of their destiny. M. Ouattara made a national reconciliation speech three days ago; he made it again today. And national reconciliation first of all means forgiveness, and it’s up to him to assess the limits within which forgiveness can be granted…
Q. – But there are still a lot of weapons circulating in Côte d’Ivoire, particularly in Abidjan.
THE MINISTER – Of course.
Q. – Both sides rearmed very recently.
THE MINISTER – President Ouattara also issued an appeal for the laying down of weapons. Reconciliation means forgiveness and also the creation of a national unity government, which we hope will include supporters of M. Gbagbo, who have just entered the reconciliation process today. I repeat, it’s up to M. Ouattara and the teams around him to decide on it; it’s certainly not up to France. There will also, indeed, be judicial proceedings, and there again it’s up to the Ivorian authorities to decide what must be done with Laurent Gbagbo and the people he’s had around him.
Q. – He’s expected to be brought before the Ivorian courts; there’s talk of referral to the International Criminal Court. Is exile for Laurent Gbagbo being considered? Would France take him in?
THE MINISTER – France certainly wouldn’t take him in; let’s not complicate matters. As for M. Gbagbo’s fate, it’s for neither me nor the French government to decide. There will be judicial proceedings: Ivorian, if that’s what the Ivorian government decides, or international if the International Criminal Court continues the investigation into Gbagbo and those around him, which, moreover, is already under way.
LIBYA/FRENCH ROLE/NATO ROLE
Q. – You’re leaving this morning, for Luxembourg I think; this evening you’ll be in Doha with the Contact Group on Libya. The conflict will be on the agenda of both these engagements. Muammar Gaddafi’s son said on television last night that France had made an historic mistake by intervening in Libya.
THE MINISTER – France made a brave choice. But it wasn’t France who intervened – again, let’s not distort things – it was an international coalition based on a Security Council resolution. France doesn’t take the initiative just like that, all of a sudden…
Q. – Under France’s impetus.
THE MINISTER – Perhaps, but France doesn’t take the initiative of going to war just like that; that’s a fabrication. An international decision was taken. Why? After all, we must always come back to the reasons why.
Because Gaddafi was descending on Benghazi, announcing he was going to carry out a blood bath there. And as I told the Security Council, it was only a matter of a few hours. And I think, and everyone recognizes, that it’s to the credit of the coalition – basically comprising the Americans, French and British at the beginning – that it prevented the massacre of Benghazi and enabled the National Transitional Council to regain strength.
Q. – You were talking last week, in front of this very microphone, about the situation in Misrata; it’s barely changed, apart from deteriorating. What can we do today, in concrete terms, to get humanitarian aid delivered? As we’ve seen, the pro-Gaddafi forces have said: “Be careful: even if you send humanitarian aid we’ll crack down.”
THE MINISTER – NATO must first of all play its full role. NATO wanted to assume military leadership of the operations. We agreed to that; it must play its full role today, in other words prevent Gaddafi too from using heavy weapons to bombard the people.
Q. – Isn’t this the case today?
THE MINISTER – Not enough, and, moreover, we’ll be saying so today in Luxembourg. You know that on Thursday and Friday we’ll be in Berlin for a North Atlantic Council meeting. So let NATO play its role and protect…
Q. – What does playing its role more involve, for example?
THE MINISTER – Destroying the heavy weapons which are today bombarding the city of Misrata. And secondly, a major increased humanitarian aid effort has to be made; there are already humanitarian aid ships arriving in Misrata. The European Union, which didn’t want to be involved in the military part of the operation, must give absolute priority to this humanitarian aid to relieve the situation of the people.
Q. – As we saw yesterday, the African Union’s mediation hasn’t really borne fruit. The Transitional Council in Libya rejected the proposed road map because, quite simply, it didn’t state Muammar Gaddafi’s departure clearly enough as a condition. Haven’t we already, in a way, both militarily and politically reached the stage of a partition of the country, a partition of Libya?
THE MINISTER – We want to avoid this at all costs, everyone wants to avoid this, Gaddafi’s supporters – there are still some – as much as the National Transitional Council, and also the international community. I was telling you that NATO had to play its role but we also have to get a political process under way too; this is the aim of the Doha meeting, where there’ll be not just the main contributing countries, but also the Arab countries and Arab League and African Union as well. So we’re going to try and encourage national dialogue between the representatives of the National Transitional Council – who’ve taken up arms to free themselves from Gaddafi’s dictatorship – key players in Libyan civil society, and also those in Tripoli who are starting to say that there isn’t really any future with Gaddafi, and as you know, there are more and more of them. (…)./.