- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

Rebuilding Ivory Coast

The first lady of the Ivory Coast is appealing for U.S. help in rebuilding the West African nation and replacing French troops with peacekeepers from the United Nations.

Simone Gbagbo, also a member of parliament, said her country is in desperate need of assistance to help it recover from a civil war that erupted after an attempted coup in September 2002.

“We want the United States to help in the decision-making process to bring U.N. peacekeepers to the Ivory Coast,” she told Embassy Row on a Washington visit last week.

Her husband, President Laurent Gbagbo, was in Paris last week to confer with French President Jacques Chirac. Ivory Coast officials blame France, the former colonial power, for failing to restore law and order in the rebel-held northern half of the country.

Mrs. Gbagbo said French troops enforcing a ceasefire are deployed between the government and rebel areas but spend most of their time looking out for French business interests, like oil.

“The French troops do not police the zones under the control of the rebels,” she said. “The need is to open civil services, open hospitals, open schools in the zones controlled by the rebels.”

Mrs. Gbagbo said Ivorian citizens are generally dissatisfied with the French presence.

“The French role has to be reduced. Troops that are more neutral are needed. … We wish to have troops that do not have interests in the country,” she added.

African troops from the Economic Community of West African States make up a small part of the peacekeeping force.

“We need U.N. troops so the country can recover as soon as possible,” she said.

Mrs. Gbagbo, who was in Washington to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, also discussed her efforts to combat poverty in meetings with members of Congress and other U.S. officials.

“I’m very passionate about this,” she said.

Mrs. Gbagbo is promoting projects to fight AIDS and improve the lives of impoverished farmers through low-interest bank loans and improvements in both agricultural methods and transportation.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Bahrain Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, who also serves as commander in chief of the Bahrain Defense Force.

• C. Gyude Bryant, Liberia’s head of state and chairman of the national transitional government, who holds a 3 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club.

• S.K. Singh, former foreign secretary of India, who addresses the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies on terrorism in South Asia.

• Pervez Hoodbhoy of Pakistan’s Quaid-c Azam University, who discusses Pakistan’s nuclear program in a panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Tomorrow

• Oussama Romdhani, director-general of the Tunisian Agency for External Communications.

• Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Gadi Baltiansky of the Israeli delegation to the unofficial Geneva peace talks and Nabil Amr and Salah Abdul Shafi of the Palestinian delegation. They address a conference at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced Internationsl Studies.

• Abdullah Abdul Rahman Al-Taweel, Kuwait’s minister of commerce and industry, who holds a 2 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club.

Wednesday

• Tomas Valasek, director of Belgium’s Center for Defense Information. He addresses Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on European Union defense policies.

• Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov, who also serves as chairman of the Committee 2008: Free Choice. He addresses the Council on Foreign Relations on his efforts to promote democracy in Russia.

Friday

• Pan Guang, director of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies Center, who discusses China and terrorism at Georgetown University.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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