Old imperialists forge African force for peace

Britain and France would like to see the continent capable of ending conflict on its own, writes Christopher Bellamy
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France and Britain are intensifying efforts to train and supply an African peace-keeping force after a number of crises in the continent which the international community has been unable to respond to with speed.

The two countries have begun training African forces which took part in the UN operation in Angola and, after a series of Franco-British and Western European Union initiatives, they will be doing more. But they do not intend to send their own troops on peace-keeping missions.

The latest French intervention in Africa, Operation Almandin in the Central African Republic, began last month. On Monday French troops moved into position in the capital, Bangui, to maintain security after moving 800 expatriates into French military bases. Two French soldiers were wounded.

Although France has intervened in Africa often in the past five years it has only done so in well-defined circumstances. French ministers want to reduce the burden of responsibility they feel for the continent. The intervention in the CAR is typical of French policy to date: its influence and citizens were at risk - in all French-speaking African states there are thousands of French people working. The other factor which would trigger intervention would be a UN mandate.

Operation Almandin and intervention in Cameroon, Operation Aramis, in February 1995, were purely French, as was Operation Azalee, the intervention in the former colony of the Comoros, last October, and Operation Croix du Sud in Niger, from October 1994 to March 1995. Other operations have been under a UN mandate, like the contribution in Angola, UNAVEM, from 1995.

France's approach to decolonisation has been more gradual than that of other Western countries and it is the only one which has created an alliance with a group of developing countries in the Third World - the Francophone states of Africa. France has defence or military assistance agreements with 30 nations. It also has about 7,000 troops in Africa: 1,400 in the CAR, 3,400 in Djibouti, 880 in Chad, 630 in Gabon, 580 in the Ivory Coast and 60 in Cameroon.

While France has maintained closer links with its former colonies than Britain, both countries are pooling expertise to train an African peace- keeping force following crises in the past five years in Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Liberia and now the CAR. The British aim is primarily to improve stability; the French also want to lessen the burden on their forces as they shrink, from an army of 240,000 now to 136,000 in 2015.

Franco-British co-operation to encourage an African peace-keeping force is based on the preventive-diplomacy initiative which was signed by the former foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, and Alain Juppe, now the French Prime Minister, in 1993; the Franco-British joint commission on peace-keeping which was agreed during President Jacques Chirac's visit to Britain last week; and the WEU mission to examine African peace-keeping.

The WEU team is expected to comprise five officers and to visit Zimbabwe and Botswana as states where planning centres for the pan-African force might be set up. Britain and France are hoping to establish the Zimbabwean Staff College in Harare as a "regional centre of excellence" for operations.

As President Chirac said on 23 February, power projection is the priority for France's "classic" (conventional) forces. A key French government document, A New Defence 1997-2015, emphasises the need to prevent conflict. This, it says, depends on intelligence and having equipment and forces in place.

The Franco-British proposals for a pan-African peace-keeping force envisage training centres to instruct troops and officers in the complexities of peace-keeping and intervention. Much of the French and British effort focuses on education and training, including the handling of refugees and setting up safe areas. Britain and France will not provide vehicles for the African force but might sell them spare parts and provide instruction in maintenance.

Most problematic is to whom the new African peace force would report.

The Organisation of African Unity would be the regional organisation but lacks the unity and expertise to command a big peace-keeping operation. The UN's experience in peace-keeping operations in general, and Africa in particular, also casts doubt on its suitability.

Diplomatic sources yesterday said they envisaged any future operation taking place under a UN mandate but possibly controlled by the WEU and employing OAU members.