France agrees to help African nations set up military force

France agrees to help African nations set up military force
France's President Francois Hollande (L) greets Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace at the start of the Elysee Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, in Paris, December 6, 2013.

PARIS - France agreed on Friday to help African nations create a joint military force to tackle coups, wars and rebellions on the continent, after the former colonial power was forced into its second military operation in Africa this year.

Paris deployed troops to Central African Republic on Friday after it secured UN backing for a mission to quell sectarian violence in the nation of 4.6 million people. That followed a French operation to dislodge al Qaeda-linked fighters from the deserts of northern Mali this year.

President Francois Hollande told about 40 African leaders at a two-day summit in Paris that the crisis in Central African Republic showed the urgent need to press ahead with the African Standby Force (ASF), and pledged French help.

"Africa must be the master of its own destiny and that means mastering its own security," Hollande told the summit, after a moment of silence for Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.

Mooted for more than a decade, the ASF is due to enter service in 2015 but its creation has been dogged by lack of materials and money, and rows over its command structure.

In a joint statement agreed at the meeting, France committed to train 20,000 African soldiers in five years and provide military advisors to the West and Central African regional blocs - where most member states are its former colonies.

With France keen to shed its reputation as 'Africa's policeman', it also agreed to provide support on the creation of a command structure for the rapid reaction force as well as technical advice on sharing air force capacity.

"It is less about providing equipment than support in expertise, planning, logistics and joint use of transportation so that the rapid reaction force ... can become operational," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. "France's role will be to accompany it as it comes into force."

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