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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France, Britain Play Up Accord on Zairean Crisis

BORDEAUX, France -- France and Britain put on a united front over the crisis in Zaire, playing down their differences at the end of Franco-British summit dominated by the situation in central Africa.

While John Major refused to be drawn on whether London would send men to help an intervention force, he and President Jacques Chirac insisted they were totally agreed on the need for urgent action.

"There is no difference between France and Britain about the importance of seeking international help into Zaire," said Major at a joint press conference that climaxed the summit Friday.

"The question is to determine what precisely needs to be done and how it can be done but that does require some further international discussion," he added.

Chirac has been hoping to press Major to back Paris' proposal for a 5,000-strong military intervention force in the region, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are trapped without aid due to fighting between Tutsi rebels and Zairean government troops.

Discussions over cooperation in Zaire dominated the Bordeaux summit, an annual affair designed to boost entente which was this year officially focussed on defense cooperation and EU-related issues.

The two countries had been keen to highlight more straightforward cooperation at the start of the Franco-British summit. Friday morning defense ministers Michael Portillo and Charles Millon signed a naval pact that was trumpeted at the closing press conference.

But Zaire clouded the whole affair, in particular after Paris submitted a resolution to the UN Security Council on Thursday calling for a limited two-month intervention force to secure aid corridors in Zaire.

In a joint statement, Chirac and Major said they were ready to contribute to "international arrangements" to ensure aid supplies, although it remained unclear whether London will send soldiers as demanded by Paris.

"The two countries have decided to coordinate their efforts closely," to ensure that "the necessary international arrangements can swiftly be put in place to enable humanitarian aid reliably to reach displaced persons and refugees in Zaire once again," they said.

In separate comments Major conceded London's support could include sending Britons to the region, while remaining cautious.

"Conceivably it might even involve some British presence there. But these are matters we have to discuss with other governments and that is happening at the moment."

British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind echoed this caution. "It's not just for Britain and France, it's for the international community as a whole including the African countries themselves."

But he added: "I am pleased that the British and French positions are converging and that we understand much better what the French are proposing and they understand our position."

France has offered up to 1,000 troops for the proposed UN-backed force, but is looking to other countries, notably the United States, to match its pledge. Washington has offered logistical support but no ground troops.