Q. – We can now see diplomacy is at work in Côte d’Ivoire in an effort to secure Laurent Gbagbo’s surrender. But in an interview with LCI last night, he himself said he refused either to recognize Alassane Ouattara’s victory or to stand down. What are you going to do?
THE MINISTER – This stubbornness is absurd. Gbagbo no longer has any perspective on things: everyone’s abandoned him and he’s holed up in a bunker under his residence. So along with the UN, which is at the helm, we’re going to keep up the pressure so that he agrees to acknowledge the reality. There’s only one legal and legitimate President today, namely Alassane Ouattara. I hope persuasion finally prevails and we don’t have to resume the military operations.
Q. – We hear talk of negotiations. What can still be negotiated now?
THE MINISTER – The conditions of his departure can be negotiated. France has asked the UN to do it, because the UN is at the forefront. Let me remind you that the framework is a United Nations mandate, with a United Nations force, UNOCI, which is much greater in number than the French force: there are more than 12,000 Blue Helmets, compared to barely 1,500 French soldiers. It’s the UN that’s negotiating and calling on Gbagbo to respect the Security Council resolutions and admit his defeat.
Q. – Might he have to be forced to, at some point?
THE MINISTER – We’ve asked the UN to guarantee his physical safety, as well as his family’s – that’s an important point – and then organize the conditions of his departure. That’s the only thing still left to negotiate.
Q. – There’s talk of exile, particularly – maybe in Mauritania…
THE MINISTER – I have no indication about that and I repeat, it’s up to the UN and the legal Ivorian authorities – that is, Alassane Ouattara’s government – to negotiate those points. France is there to facilitate those things.
Q. – Is a lack of prosecution by the International Criminal Court also a factor, bearing in mind the massacres that may have been perpetrated, particularly in the west of the country?
THE MINISTER – Only the International Criminal Court can take decisions on this point.
Q. – What comes after Gbagbo? Succeeding with the peace…
THE MINISTER – Yes, that’s the most important thing now, because…
Q. – It’s also harder.
THE MINISTER – It is indeed harder, but it must nevertheless be pointed out that the heaviest fighting is over. Heavy weapons are no longer in use, having been destroyed by both the UN and the Licorne force in accordance with UNSCR 1975; that’s progress, I think, for the situation in the city of Abidjan. But at the same time, you’re right: we must move to the other phase, namely rebuilding that country, which has been devastated for months, not to mention what’s been happening for about 10 years because of these confrontations.
The first thing to carry out – and we know President Ouattara is ready to carry it out – is a pardon for all those who have been led astray, national reconciliation and the creation of a government of national unity, which will of course include former Gbagbo supporters; and after that, economic reconstruction.
The country is suffering a lot from the economic sanctions imposed on it. Cocoa beans can’t be exported any more, for example. So the sanctions will have to be eased, as soon as things are clarified, so that the country – which has a lot of potential but is unfortunately in a very difficult situation today – can be rebuilt economically.
Q. – What will become of people like Charles Blé Goudé and Philippe Mangou, the henchmen of Laurent Gbagbo in Côte d’Ivoire?
THE MINISTER – As you know, it’s not France who’s going to govern Côte d’Ivoire, it’s President Ouattara and his government. It’s up to them to determine how far to go with pardons and amnesties. If crimes have been committed, I think of course they’ll be prosecuted and punished.
FRENCH INTERVENTION/KIDNAP VICTIMS
Q. – Some French politicians today are criticizing the French intervention, even under the United Nations banner; people on the left are complaining particularly of not being informed in advance.
THE MINISTER – Well, listen, that’s not the kind of thing I heard yesterday, because I was with Gérard Longuet at a joint meeting of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees. The presentation we gave was practically unanimously welcomed, with the exception of the communists, it must be said. Moreover, the information was immediate: as soon as President Sarkozy assented to the UN’s request, the Prime Minister wrote to the National Assembly Speaker to inform him and to tell him the ministers were available to answer MPs. The information was provided within barely 24 hours – not even that.
Q. – Four people, including two French people, have been kidnapped in Côte d’Ivoire. Have you got any news? Who kidnapped them? Do we have any details?
THE MINISTER – Unfortunately I can’t tell you anything on this point: we have no clear information, no claims of responsibility and for the moment no leads.
Q. – We were talking about a busy news agenda at international level. Indeed, there’s also the intervention in Libya. It was France, from the outset, who argued for an intervention over there. From now on NATO is running the operations. The United States withdrew on Monday evening. You said this would be a swift intervention. What does that mean? Aren’t we today just a little bogged down in the situation?
THE MINISTER – On the ground, the military situation is confused and uncertain, and the risk of stalemate exists. I’ve heard that NATO’s been called into question. We must look at things clearly; they’ve evolved since the start of the intervention. Thanks to the intervention of France, the United Kingdom and the United States in the initial phase, the bulk of Gaddafi’s planes, helicopters and armoured vehicles were destroyed. How’s he operating today? With pick-up trucks, small lorries with a few holes through which they can fire Kalashnikovs or machine guns; those are obviously much harder to locate.
Q. – But he’s regained ground.
THE MINISTER – That depends: there are advances and retreats and above all…
Q. – Misrata, particularly .
THE MINISTER – Misrata is in a situation that can’t last. I’m also going to discuss it with the NATO Secretary-General in a few hours’ time. What I’d like to point out is that we’ve made a formal request for there to be no collateral damage to the civilian population; that obviously makes interventions more difficult, because Gaddafi’s troops have clearly understood things and are tending to move closer to the civilian population.
Q. – But the leader of the Libyan rebels himself said last night that NATO is currently allowing Misrata’s inhabitants to die. There was a very direct appeal to Nicolas Sarkozy.
THE MINISTER – We heard it, and as I’ve said we’re going to talk to the NATO leaders about it. We’re supporting the National Transitional Council with all our might, and it must also organize itself; in the end, on the ground, it will all depend on them. We’re there to protect the civilian population, not to go and win back the territory.
POLITICAL MOVES/ARMS EMBARGO
Let me add that – as in Côte d’Ivoire, although it’s a different situation – we must move on to the political phase; hence the meeting to be held in Doha next week of what’s called the Contact Group, namely the countries providing their help to NATO plus the big organizations: the Arab League, the United Nations and the African Union. It’s about backing a political solution: that is, discussions between the National Transitional Council, but also those in Tripoli who have clearly understood there’s no future for Gaddafi and are ready to talk to the UN.
Q. – Do you perhaps envisage helping to arm the insurgents?
THE MINISTER – On this point, we’ve said there’s an embargo on arms bound for the Jamahiriya: that is, Gaddafi’s troops. We haven’t entered into a process in which we’ve delivered any weapons. (…)./.