- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

PARIS (AP) - France’s prime minister vowed Friday to spare the country’s defense budget from new government spending cuts, after top military chiefs threatened to resign amid fears that further reductions will be made.

Manuel Valls sought to dispel what he called unfounded worries about a five-year defense budget program adopted in December, which already included military spending cuts. He said President Francois Hollande has said the plan would be “totally preserved” from broad new cost-cutting measures by his debt-saddled government.

France’s military leaders fear any new cuts could hamper the country’s ability to conduct operations in places like Mali, Central African Republic and beyond. French military operations in those countries have drawn praise from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the United States, and other French allies.

Under the five-year plan, defense spending totals about 31.4 billion euros ($42.8 billion). But last week, France’s chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the air force, army and navy chiefs threatened to resign if a new Finance Ministry proposal went ahead to cut it to as low as 29 billion euros, according to ministry and military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the political issue.

The ministry official confirmed to The Associated Press details of a Friday report in Le Figaro newspaper indicating that Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had written to the prime minister this month to express concerns about new budget tightening.

Over the past two years, Hollande has ordered the costly deployments of thousands of French troops to two of France’s former colonies in Africa - to Mali to fight jihadists, and to Central African Republic to help stem inter-religious bloodshed.

Retired Gen. Vincent Desportes, a former French army chief, told i-Tele TV that when Hollande got red-carpet treatment in Washington this year, “it was not because of France’s economic power. It’s because of the (French) soldiers who know how to fight in Africa.”

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