The Multinational Monitor


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Libyan Oil Smears France

France finds itself once again embroiled in controversy on the African continent. Last month, the French press was flooded with charges that an oil exploration/production agreement between the French state oil company Elf-Aquitaine and the Libyan government may have softened France's reaction toward Libya's December invasion and "merger" with Chad.

The chronology of France's initial response to Libyan aggression fueled rumors of an oil-for-noninterference accord. Eleven days after Elf-Aquitaine and Libya signed the contract allowing Elf to search for and assist in producing oil on five "licensed areas" totaling 15,000 sq. km. (6,100 sq. miles), Libyan forces entered Ndjamena, Chad's capital.

The only comment from Paris immediately following the invasion was a mild scolding about the wrongs of unilateral foreign intervention. Hardly a show of bravado by France, whose troops had played a mediating role in Chadian civil conflicts for the past 14 years - until the various factions involved, including Chadian president Goukouni Oueddei, requested their withdrawal last year.

Commented an editorial in the French daily Les Echos, "The real truth, which underlies the suspect operation, is that, more and more, our politics and business are becoming confused. Or, more precisely, that market conditions are insidiously overtaking political objectives."

And Le Quotidien de Paris added, "One would have liked, faced with the insolence of [Libyan president Muammar] Qadhafi - who hasn't hesitated to strike an entire country from the map - a more courageous attitude. One would have liked France to say clearly and forthrightly that, whatever her energy needs, she will not negotiate or deal with brute force, in scorn of the law."

Officials of the French government, Elf-Aquitaine, and the Libyan government have all denied the charges of an oil tradeoff - tacit or otherwise. Said French Embassy spokesman Alain Gouhier in explaining France's posture, "Every time France has intervened in Africa, it has been at the request of an African government. This time there was no request [and no intervention] because there is no government [in civil war-torn. Chad]."

Following the harsh domestic criticism of France's commercial relationship with Libya, French Industry and Energy Minister Andre Girauc} nullified the Elf-Libya contract and denied that he previously knew about or approved the deal - an odd statement, given the government's 65% ownership of Elf's holding company, Societe Erap.

In early January, French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing announced the reinforcement of French troops in Central and West Africa. This action came after Qadhafi announced the "merger" of Libya and Chad and the expansion of Libya's nuclear research program.

France's interest in-the region goes beyond post-colonial nostalgia. Chad's northern Aouzou strip, which Libya invaded in 1976, contains substantial, though largely unexplored, uranium resources. Several French companies, including the state atomic energy corporation Cogema, mine uranium in neighboring Niger.

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