Côte d’Ivoire – French hostages – France/Eastern Christians – Lebanon/STL indictment
Q. – Former President Laurent Gbagbo finally seems to be agreeing to negotiate a peaceful solution; what’s your analysis of this latest development in Côte d’Ivoire?
THE MINISTER – If that report is confirmed, it’s a step forward in the negotiation that must be welcomed.
Q. – Must Laurent Gbagbo step down?
THE MINISTER – Of course, he must go: that’s what the African organizations, the UN and all the States are saying. It’s the rule of democracy when you’ve been defeated in an election.
Q. – The Ouattara clan is calling for the use of force; what’s Paris’s position on that call?
THE MINISTER – Today, we hope Laurent Gbagbo’s departure can be made without recourse to force, because it’s what is democratically legitimate. If a military operation had to take place, it wouldn’t be France who would intervene.
Q. – What are the orders given to the French soldiers in Côte d’Ivoire?
THE MINISTER – The Licorne force can intervene only in support of UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire].
Q. – The USA has proposed that Laurent Gbagbo go to the United States; would France be ready to make Laurent Gbagbo such a proposal?
THE MINISTER – If he left normally, why not? He possesses properties here, I think. By contrast, if he shuts himself off in a refusal of democracy, if actions liable to be prosecuted in the courts are taken – particularly attacks on individuals – then the situation clearly becomes much more difficult for him.
Q. – What measures are in place to ensure the protection of the 12,000 or so French nationals in Côte d’Ivoire?
THE MINISTER – For the moment, there are no threats against French nationals. But xenophobic and indeed racist remarks by Laurent Gbagbo’s entourage have been broadcast by certain media outlets. We’re in permanent contact with our nationals and ready to provide help to them and to those of other countries who might be in difficulty.
Q. – What’s your reaction to the statements by Roland Dumas [former French foreign minister and lawyer] and Jacques Vergès [French lawyer] on the possibility of recounting the votes?
THE MINISTER – Their statements are dictated by the professional activity they’re carrying out for Laurent Gbagbo. I find this approach pitiful, especially from a former French foreign minister. It’s very sad.
Q. – Has there been any hope that the hostages in Afghanistan might be released? What’s getting in the way?
THE MINISTER – The situation of all the hostages is at the top of my concerns. And let’s not forget, either, our hostage in Somalia and the Franco-Israeli hostage being held in the Gaza Strip. These are always extremely delicate situations and you’ll understand that I don’t want to say anything that might hinder their release.
Q. – Can you confirm that they’ve been separated?
THE MINISTER – The only thing I can tell you is that they appear separately on the videos.
Q. – Are things more complex in the Sahel than in Afghanistan?
THE MINISTER – They’re different. Each situation is different and moves forward at its own pace.
Q. – What’s your reaction to the latest attack on Eastern Christians in Egypt?
THE MINISTER – It’s a major concern for me that in certain parts of the world you can’t freely practise your faith. One of the foundations of the French Republic is recognition of one’s freedom of thought, freedom of religion, whatever it is. The time for making statements and expressing concern is over. This is why I’m going to take a number of initiatives with my European colleagues to ensure the protection of Eastern Christians.
Q. – Do you envisage admitting any to France?
THE MINISTER – The day after the Baghdad attack, we admitted 38 injured Iraqis for treatment, along with those accompanying them. As we said, once people have received treatment, it’s reasonable for them to be able to return to their country. If they can’t, it’s tantamount to letting their attackers win. Nevertheless, if some people consider themselves unsafe, it’s reasonable for them to be given asylum.
Q. – Is there a risk of confrontation with the Muslim world?
THE MINISTER – The aim of terrorism is to make an impact on people’s minds. The aim of al-Qaeda and the radical Islamists is to provoke a confrontation between the Arab and Western worlds. The French government’s concern is to ensure that we don’t take that approach, which plays into the hands of the terrorists.
Q. – In Lebanon, what is Paris’s position on the indictment by Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which could target members of Hezbollah?
THE MINISTER – The STL was formed through international political will and no one can do away with it or prevent it from working.
Q. – At the risk of causing a civil war?
THE MINISTER – What’s important – and this is Saad Hariri’s concern – is to preserve Lebanon’s unity. Even so, the STL must be able to do its job.
Q. – But is it still possible?
THE MINISTER – Yes, I think so. Hezbollah has elected representatives in the institutions, which proves the institutions are functioning. If individuals are brought before the STL, it will be as individuals and not as representatives of a party or community. (…)./.