- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

PARIS, Feb. 20 (UPI) — French President Jacques Chirac mixed stern warnings for Africa to put its political and economic house in order, with praise for a continent brimming with possibilities, during an address to African leaders Friday.

"You — and we — cannot give legitimacy to the use of violence," Chirac told some 50 African heads of state and representatives meeting at the start of a French-Africa summit in Paris. "We cannot leave provinces to become disinherited. How can we remain indifferent to the grave famine now threatening 40 million Africans?"

"Here too," the French leader, "the answer lies in determined action."

The three-day summit comes as Africa's troubles are marginalized in world events now focusing on a U.S.-European rift, and a possible war on Iraq. And it comes at a time when chunks of Africa are wrought by turmoil, including Ivory Coast, France's former colonial jewel.

Indeed, both Chirac and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan used speeches Thursday to urge Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to respect peace accords cinched with rebels in Paris last month.

Gbagbo, who appears to have backtracked on the agreement, was not present at the summit, sending his new prime minister instead.

"We must do our utmost to help Cote D'Ivoire regain the secure path it had known for so many years, and so many decades," Annan said. "I call on all Ivorians, and particularly the country's political leaders and President Gbagbo, to make the agreement they signed last month a concrete first step toward peace."

But Annan praised other countries, including Angola, Burundi, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for taking positive steps toward peace.

"That makes it all the more important for the international community to provide strong support for Africa's peacekeeping, and peacemaking initiatives," Annan said.

Helping Africa — racked by endemic poverty and drought, spiraling AIDS, and insufficient schools and health services — is expected to figure among top issues discussed during June's G-8 summit in Evian, France.

Chirac announced Friday Paris was boosting its development assistance 50 percent by 2007, to 0.5 percent of its GNP. That figure would rise to 0.7 percent of domestic income — a target urged by the United Nations — as of 2012, he said.

The French president also praised African countries for creating the new African Union, and launching a continent-wide economic development plan.

"Africa's appeals have won a better hearing in the major world gatherings," he said, notably with a millennium pledge in Monterey, Calif., to boost assistance to Africa.

Chirac has promised to restore African issues to the "heart of French politics," after a decade of gradual disengagement.

The turnabout is best seen in Ivory Coast, where some 3,000 French peacekeepers are present — the largest French military force in any African country in more than two decades.

Yet the French has refused to offer military aid to Gbagbo and several African leaders, arguing their conflicts must be solved internally, or with mediation from other African countries.

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