France plans to withdraw 1,900 of its soldiers from the African nations of Chad and Ivory Coast to reduce its foreign troop deployment, Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced on Wednesday.
At least 1,000 soldiers of France's 1,650-strong mission to protect refugees in Chad will be withdrawn by this summer, Fillon said. In addition, the 1,800-strong contingent in Ivory Coast will be cut by half, he said.
Fillon spoke during a parliamentary debate on France's military missions overseas.
The soldiers being pulled from Chad are part of the EUFOR mission to protect refugees who have fled the conflict in Darfur in neighboring Sudan. Chadians displaced by violence that has spilled over from Darfur and by a rebellion in eastern Chad also have been under EUFOR's watch.
The European contingent is scheduled to be replaced by a UN force starting March 15.
EUFOR had problems mustering enough soldiers from European Union nations and was hampered by a shortage of helicopters and planes from the start of the operation.
France will continue to furnish logistical aid to the UN force. Another French contingent in Chad since 1986 will aid the U.N. mission as it helped EUFOR deploy, the prime minister said. France also is cutting to 900 the number of its troops in Ivory Coast, another former African colony, Fillon said. French forces have been deployed in Ivory Coast since the start of the civil war there in September 2002. They helped block the advance of northern rebels. The force already was trimmed back in 2008, from 2,400 to 1,800, as the political situation stabilized. "The security challenges in Ivory Coast have lost their intensity," Fillon said.
"Regrouped in Abidjan, our troops will remain able to ensure the protection and eventual evacuation of our countrymen," the prime minister said. The French troops also will a help a UN force in the event of further conflicts, he said.
France has 200 soldiers in the UN force, also to return home this year, Fillon said.
Cuts like those announced can save France hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) per year.
French Defense Minister Herve Morin said in an interview published Wednesday by the daily France-Soir that France planned to reduce its foreign deployment from 13,000 to 10,000 troops.