French to give control of airport to Ivorian forces


ABIDJAN – The French military say it will hand control of Ivory Coast’s main airport back to national armed forces as fighting in the west African state dies down.

French soldiers backing the UN mission in Ivory Coast had taken the airport during combat in Abidjan between fighters loyal to Laurent Gbagbo and those loyal to internationally backed president Alassane Ouattara.

Mr Gbagbo was arrested last week. “We will return control of the airport installations, which were in our control for reasons of security, back to Ivorian authorities,” Commander Frederic Daguillon, spokesman for the French Licorne force, said yesterday.

Prime minister Guillaume Soro yesterday called on businessmen, officials and transportation workers to resume their activities, especially in the main Plateau business district. This may help deter sabotage at offices and businesses, he said.

Mr Ouattara’s government has said it is also hoping for a restart of port operations and banking activity in the coming days as authorities seek to revive the economy – once French west Africa’s brightest.

Ivory Coast is the world’s top grower of cocoa and one of a handful of sub-Saharan African countries with a euro bond.

Mr Gbagbo, who had led the nation since 2000, refused to cede power after losing a November election to Mr Ouattara, sparking a power struggle that killed more than 1,500 people and displaced more than a million.

Former rebels from Ivory Coast’s 2002 civil war rallied to Mr Ouattara’s side and reached Abidjan in late March before capturing Mr Gbagbo in his official residence with the help of French and UN forces.

The head of Mr Gbagbo’s political party late on Saturday called on his supporters to lay down their guns amid efforts to disarm militias still active in parts of the country. – (Reuters)