Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade announced his country was taking back military bases held by former colonial power France at midnight as the country marked 50 years of independence Sunday.
“I solemnly declare that from 00H00 (GMT) April 4 Senegal will take back all the (military) bases formerly held by France and intends to exert its sovereignty,” Wade said in an address to the nation on public television.
“Regarding the time frame for the release of these bases, I have asked the prime minister and army chief of staff to begin talks with the French side.”
Wade was speaking Saturday on the eve of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence from France, on April 4, 1960.
As Wade spoke, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux was arriving to represent France at Sunday’s ceremonies, which will include a military parade in which French soldiers will take part.
“This year will be different from the others,” said Wade at the start of his speech.
Following independence, Senegal had agreed to let its former colonial masters France keep military bases there, he said.
“Over the years, this situation has appeared more and more incongruous and has often been felt by our populations, particularly young people, civil servants and the army, as an incomplete independence,” he added.
In Paris, a French defence ministry spokesman told AFP talks between the two countries were ongoing on future cooperation and the maintenance of a smaller French force on Senegalese territory.
On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised the question of their military presence in Senegal in a message to Wade, in which he said France wanted to maintain political and military cooperation.
He is not attending the ceremonies in Senegal marking the 50th anniversary of independence.
France and its former colony Senegal have been bound by a defence agreement since 1974, and 1,200 French soldiers are currently “pre-positioned” in Dakar at one of three permanent French bases in Africa.
On February 19 Wade’s spokesman Mamadou Bamba Ndiaye told AFP “the French military bases will leave Dakar in virtue of an agreement signed by both parties” ahead of the April 4th independence celebrations.
The French defence minister confirmed the same day that Paris intended to close its military bases in Senegal but intended to preserve a “centre of military cooperation with a regional purpose.”
At the end of February Sarkozy announced that only 300 soldiers, 900 fewer than there are today, would stay in Dakar.
© 2010 AFP