Official statements on Middle East and Africa
Press briefing by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman (excerpts)
Paris, 3 December 2013
Syria – Situation in Maaloula
We are extremely concerned about reports that 12 Syrian and Lebanese Orthodox nuns have been kidnapped from or forced out of the convent in Maaloula. If this proves to be the case, we demand their immediate release. We condemn all forms of violence against the civilian populations and all arbitrary detentions of civilians.
In addition, we demand that places of worship and religious institutions be respected. We reaffirm our solidarity with the churches of Syria.
The Christian town of Maaloula had already been the scene of heavy fighting in September. The Free Syrian Army, under the control of the Syrian National Coalition, had forced the jihadists out of the town, while the jihadists were ransacking the monasteries and churches, and the regime was bombing the town.
The Syrian National Coalition has, through its president, Ahmad al-Jarba, reaffirmed on several occasions its commitment to a free and democratic Syria that respects all its citizens and all religious groups.
Q. – Have you any comments about what’s happening in northern Lebanon, in Tripoli? The area has been declared a military area for six months.
SPOKESMAN – M. Laurent Fabius sets great store by the relationship with Lebanon and constantly states our position: everything must be done to avoid the Syria crisis affecting the stability of Lebanon, in order to safeguard its stability and sovereignty.
Q. – We’re hearing in various quarters that there’s perhaps a French initiative on Lebanon…
SPOKESMAN – We’re always mobilized and proactive in support of Lebanon. It’s a country with which we have such strong ties that our efforts are non-stop. Constant diplomatic work is being done and we’ve also supported from the outset Lebanon’s huge humanitarian effort to take in refugees. (…)
Q. – As regards Mali, what’s your assessment of what’s now going on between the MNLA [Azawad National Liberation Movement] and the government? Are you afraid that the ceasefire will end and the clashes will resume?
SPOKESMAN – President Keita has embarked on a policy of dialogue and reconciliation. In the Malian government, there’s a minister responsible for dialogue and national reconciliation. Work is under way to reconcile the various communities and draw a line under the clashes.
This work will take time. But let’s not take a gloomy view of recent developments in Mali. Let’s look instead at the progress made over the past few months: after the collapse and invasion of part of its territory by terrorist groups, the country has regained sovereignty over the whole of its territory today. A president has been elected. A general election is taking place there. A process of national reconciliation is under way. The international community mobilized itself, particularly at the Brussels donors’ conference in May which enabled more than $3 billion to be raised.
Central African Republic
Q. – French soldiers are in Cameroon to go to the Central African Republic. When are they leaving? There’s a humanitarian emergency…
SPOKESMAN – On the specific details of the French reinforcement’s deployment, I ask you to contact the Defence Ministry.
For several months now we’ve been actively raising awareness among the international community and calling for support for the African effort to restore security and order to the Central African Republic. This active role began in August with an initial meeting at the United Nations Security Council. It continued in September with the appeal made by the French President during the ministerial week of the General Assembly. After an initial resolution was adopted at the Security Council on our initiative, M. Laurent Fabius went to Bangui on 13 October with the European commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid, Ms Georgieva. He set out the framework of our action:
firstly, support for a political process, with elections in February 2015 at the latest, in accordance with the Libreville Agreements and the N’Djamena declaration;
secondly, support for the Africans in restoring security. An African force, MISCA [AFISM-CAR] is currently being deployed on the ground. Our goal is to help the Africans with this effort to make the country secure and maintain access to the population;
the third aspect of our action, humanitarian action, is crucial. The humanitarian crisis requires protection of the population from violence; emergency food aid; health assistance; and medical assistance. France is making a considerable effort: relief in the order of some €10 million has been mobilized in the space of a few weeks.
We’re playing a more active role today than ever. On our initiative, a resolution is being discussed at the Security Council in New York. It will enable the international community to lend its support to the African force, by authorizing those who would like to take part – including France – to back it.
Security depends first and foremost on the African states. We’re present to support them, as we were for Mali when we were called on by the country’s authorities. In the CAR, we’re being called on by the international community and the transitional authority to support the African force. In this regard, the Elysée summit at the end of the week will include a very important security aspect, in line with the principles set out by the President: to support the African continent in taking control of its security, in particular by helping our African partners to create a rapid reaction force and strengthen Africa’s peacekeeping capabilities.
Q. – The Americans are already on the ground. Will there be cooperation with France?
SPOKESMAN – All international efforts that can help restore security to the Central African Republic are welcome.
Q. – On the basis of the new resolution, will MISCA be broadened?
SPOKESMAN – Due to the humanitarian and security emergency, MISCA is currently being deployed and has nearly 2,400 soldiers and police. With the new resolution, it will have a specific, clear mandate based on the United Nations Charter, and this will give it the necessary legitimacy to restore security.
Q. – And so the French soldiers will no longer be [there] only in the bilateral framework of the [Operation] Boali force?
SPOKESMAN – The French soldiers are acting in the multilateral framework of the Security Council resolutions and to support MISCA. Yesterday we welcomed the reinforcement provided by the Republic of the Congo, which sent 400 troops. This morning, M. Laurent Fabius also welcomed the Gabonese military effort.
Q. – What efforts is France making? On the ground, there’s no French military support.
SPOKESMAN – France’s assistance relates to three spheres: security, humanitarian and cooperation/development.
1) In the security sphere, France is contributing to the three European initiatives to support the stabilization of Somalia and the fight against maritime piracy off the Horn of Africa: Atalanta (the fight against piracy off the coast), EUTM Somalia (the training of the Somali armed forces) and EUCAP Nestor (strengthening of maritime and judicial capabilities to fight piracy). The latter two actions are aimed at enabling the Somalis to take ownership of their own security on land and at sea. In the framework of the EUTM Somalia initiative, we’re directly contributing to the training of Somali soldiers (some 3,000 soldiers have been trained).
We’re also continuously supporting AMISOM, the African Union mission in Somalia. At bilateral level, we’re carrying out training activities for AMISOM contingents. At European level, we’re helping take financial responsibility for the troops’ wages.
2) In the humanitarian sphere, since 2011 our aid has amounted to some €30 million. In 2013, the European Union, through the aid from the Directorate-General of the European Community Humanitarian Office (DG ECHO), has devoted €40 million to Somalia.
3) Finally, in the field of cooperation and development, although the French Development Agency has no bureau as such in Somalia, one-off actions have been carried out, particularly in the area of assistance to the population. In particular, France has in recent months supported the implementation – through its Ecole nationale de la magistrature [legal service training college] and notably in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme – of a project to train judicial staff, aimed at strengthening Somalia’s ability to provide a specific penal response to acts of piracy. Over the period 2008-2013, the EU also allocated €412 million to development projects, in a few main areas: governance, education, the social sector and economic development. On 16 September it organized an international conference in Brussels enabling a policy document to be adopted to support the rebuilding of the country, with announcements of financial commitments to the tune of €1.8 billion.
We’re also very committed to freedom of the press in Somalia and we support Somali journalists, who pay a very heavy toll. We’re trying to help them through training programmes and we’re asking for there to be no impunity for the perpetrators of violence against them. Last week we ensured that a resolution on the protection of journalists was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. In getting this resolution adopted, we were also thinking very much of Somalia.
Q. – What do you think about Médecins Sans Frontières’ action on the ground?
SPOKESMAN – Médecins Sans Frontières is a non-governmental organization which can decide freely on its programmes and interventions in countries in crisis. NGOs are by definition independent, and this framework must be respected.
Of course, in Africa and elsewhere, we support them. Last week M. Laurent Fabius also brought together all the NGOs present in the Central African Republic, to discuss with them what more we can do to help that country.
Q. – Quite obviously, maritime piracy must be condemned. But when you know that it’s running the economy, isn’t there a risk?
SPOKESMAN – The country isn’t going to be developed through funds collected by piracy. Piracy is a crime committed, above all, against the Somali people. To emerge from the crisis, Somalia has to develop its agricultural capabilities and all the areas where the country has strong potential. It’s through the international community directing its energies to concrete projects, with the support of the Somali authorities, that we’ll help the country emerge from the crisis. (…)./.