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France to cut overseas troops in Balkans, Africa

France plans to cut its overseas forces from 13,000 to 10,000 troops this year by reducing its role in missions in the Balkans and Africa, the French defence minister was quoted.

world Updated: Jan 28, 2009 19:40 IST

France plans to cut its overseas forces from 13,000 to 10,000 troops this year by reducing its role in missions in the Balkans and Africa, the French defence minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

French peacekeepers are active in missions from Afghanistan to Haiti, but the minister said some operations would be trimmed to fit changing needs and a tighter budget.

The lower house of parliament was due to vote later on Wednesday on extending the mandates of some of France's foreign operations, including its participation in the European Union's EUFOR force in Bosnia.

"I think the operation in Bosnia doesn't make sense anymore," Defence Minister Herve Morin told newspaper France-Soir, referring to the European Union peacekeeping mission that took over from NATO in 2004.

Ethnic tensions still plague Bosnia, which was divided into a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat entity after the Bosnian war, but Morin said the country now needed military trainers rather than peacekeeping troops.

The extent of France's involvement in international peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Chad, Central African Republic and Ivory Coast are also under review, he said.

"What counts is to know if there is the need to sustain this level of forces," he was quoted as saying. "If at the same time we can save some money for the country, all the better."

France's overseas operations cost some 900 million euros ($1.19 billion) a year, of which 300 million euros are consumed by the mission in Afghanistan, which will not be cut back, he said. He expected the reduction of troops elsewhere to save 100 to 150 million euros a year.

The lower house is scheduled to vote on extending the mandate for operations in Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Lebanon, Chad and Central Africa Republic, as well as EUFOR.

France is shaking up its defence strategy abroad and at home, trying to make its armed forces more efficient and flexible to respond to new threats such as global terrorism.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said last year France would renegotiate all its defence cooperation agreements with African countries, some of which are among its closest allies. Under such agreements, French forces can sometimes intervene directly in an internal conflict.