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France warns African rulers

ROLAND DUMAS, the French Foreign Minister, warned African governments yesterday that France could stop its aid to those which refused to bow to pressure to reform.

In an interview with the Bordeaux daily Sud-Ouest, Mr Dumas said President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire 'would be very wrong not to conform to the will of his people'. Philippe Bernard, the French ambassador to Zaire, was killed on Thursday when the French embassy in Kinshasa was sprayed with automatic fire as troops loyal to the President tried to put down a mutiny over pay.

But the warning was equally applicable to Togo where troops fired on unarmed demonstrators last week before the eyes of Marcel Debarge, the French Co-operation Minister. Over the weekend, an 11-year-old French boy was killed by a stray bullet in the Togo capital of Lome.

Mr Dumas said France had 'to facilitate the democratic process, encourage it and make leaders understand that it is in their interest'. He added: 'To do this we dispose of diplomatic, economic and financial means and our co- operation can be stopped from one day to the next.' Last week about 150 French troops flew to Kinshasa from Bangui in the Central African Republic to supervise the evacuation of French citizens. Some Europeans, principally Belgian residents, crossed the Congo River to Brazzaville.

Turmoil in Africa has added to the burdens on the French armed forces, which are playing important roles in United Nations operations in Cambodia, Somalia and former Yugoslavia. France has a tradition of direct intervention in African crises. In the 12 years since Francois Mitterrand was first elected, French troops have put down rebellions in the Comoros, Gabon, Rwanda, Togo and Zaire, as well as backing the government of Chad.

In 1990 Mr Mitterrand promised 'a bonus for democracy' at a summit with French-speaking African leaders, starting a French policy of encouraging democratisation on the continent. In Togo, however, France has been reluctant to take measures against the government. Although the US, the EC and Germany suspended aid a year ago to put pressure on the government for democratic reform, France has so far only stopped military co-operation.

Mr Dumas said France's obligations in Africa were 'limited to the security of countries with which we have agreements and to that of French communities in countries where they are threatened by turmoil'.