The French in The Coalition

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President Jacques Chirac announced Sunday, Oct. 7, that France will take part to the military operations led by the USA against Osama bin Laden and the regime of Taliban. The majority of the French political class seems to sustain the current action. The first Secretary of the Socialist Party, Mr. Franéois Hollande, declared the American retaliation as “legitimate” and approved the French participation. So did Mr. Paul Quilés (SP), president of the parliament’s defense committee, who deems the current strategy “reasonable since it endeavors to avoid casualties among the civilian population”. Mr. Franéois Loncle (SP), president of the Foreign Affairs Committee approved and asked that the parliament be consulted in case the French troops would have to go to the front. Idem for Mr. Jean Michel Baylet, president of the Parti radical de gauche. On the right, the UDF (Mr. Franéois Bayrou’s Union pour la démocratie Franéaise) wished that ” France be able to occupy entirely its place ” in the ” fight against the fundamentalist terrorism “. Mr. Bruno Mégret, leader of the MNR (far-right), also approved the ” American retaliation ” and the ” French support” and asked the government to “neutralize the Islamist implantation ” on the French soil.

However, some leftist voices disagreed with the current trend. Thus, Mr. Robert Hue, national secretary of the Communist Party (: which is presently participating to the government of Mr. Jospin) talked about ” war acts (…) bearing heavy considerable risks”, and underlined the possibility of ” uncontrollable gearing”. Mr. Noel Mamére, representative of the green party (also a member of the left’s government), criticized the ” war against the Afghan people”. For him, the American reaction sounds ” too disproportionate” and announces a “dangerous escalation”. The Movement for Peace (pro-Communist) denunciated the “war logic” as well as the terrorism. The LCR (Trotskyist movement) expressed its ” indignation as regards the French participation to the war apparatus”.

On the diplomatic side, a communiqué of the Quai d’Orsay (French Foreign Ministry) issued on October 5, emphasized that Paris has presented a plan of action to its partners. In the context of ” the plan of action for Afghanistan” proposed by France it says, emergency humanitarian aid is to be provided immediately. It will be adapted as needs evolve.

According to the communiqué, the plan is based on three types of intervention: support for French NGOs with expertise on the ground in Afghanistan; support for international agencies (ICRC, UNICEF, OCHA); food aid via WFP which is scheduled to arrive at the end of October 2001.

It is balanced between the zones of access (in the north, center and south) open to each operator selected.

The first batch of aid also takes into account France’s contribution (17%) to the special funding mobilized by ECHO for the final quarter of 2001. Financing for this aid is coming from the Emergency Humanitarian Fund (FUH 2001), the DGCID, the Ministry of Agriculture in the case of aid, and the contribution already provided to ECHO. The Ministry of Agriculture has also released 4,500 grain equivalent tons in addition to the initial financing.

According to Mr. Josselin (Minister of the French-speaking and international cooperation) the French plan will be spread out over several months and will release a total of 214 million francs, plus what the Agriculture Ministry has indicated, i.e. a total of 226 million francs. This humanitarian aid will be destined for all the people of Afghanistan, through support to French NGOs and international agencies.

Meanwhile, on October 8 and 9, the General Affairs Council is scheduled to meet in Luxembourg. It is expected that the European Ministers discuss the consequences of the attacks on the U.S., both the internal and external aspects. Among the questions concerning third countries, relations with Iran and Pakistan have to be examined, as well as the action to be followed as regards Afghanistan. There is also talk about a six-point plan presented by France, concerning the political arrangements and the reconstruction.

The council is expected to decide on measures to be taken regarding freezing the assets of entities linked to terrorist activities (a French initiative). A special General Affairs Council is to be convened before the informal European Council meeting at Gand (Oct.19) so that the work begun in each area can be coordinated and a report for heads of state and government prepared.

It is expected that the Council also discuss the situation in the Middle East in light of the latest developments and following visits to the region by several European Ministers.

The communiqué of Quai d’Orsay condemns the violence of Israeli military reprisals in Hebron which left six dead in 24 hours, and welcomes the statements by the Palestinian authorities calling for a cease-fire.

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.

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