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Cablegate: Local French Views On Malagasy Crisis

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E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Although the French government may be outwardly
in synch with the rest of the international community, discussions
with local French representatives indicate that do not plan to "lay
down the law," in a clear, non-ambiguous way, to Andry "TGV"
Rajoelina and the HAT. They continue to support the idea of early
elections, even if imperfect, as the French are extremely
pessimistic about the ability of sanctions, the Maputo/Addis
Accords, and/or further negotiations led by Chissano to solve the
political crisis. The French government has reduced its military
aid to Madagascar, but does not plan to make further cuts to
bilateral aid programs, even if EU funds are cut following the
closure of discussions under the Cotonou Accord, now expected in
March. End summary.

No Sanctions, Elections Instead
------------ -----------------
2. (SBU) The French Ambassador, accompanied by three colleagues,
hosted the U.S. Ambassador and three colleagues at a working lunch
to discuss Madagascar's political crisis Feb 23. The French
Ambassador questioned the utility of sanctions targeting the HAT,
arguing that they wouldn't help solve the crisis, but may rather
produce a counter-productive nationalist surge that reinforced TGV.
He argued that 85 percent of the Malagasy population who are
apolitical should not be punished by further economic deterioration
due to the failures of a few politicians. He reiterated their
belief that rapid elections, and the avoidance of a Cote d'Ivoire
scenario, were the best, practical option for ending the crisis, and
stated categorically that "there will be elections." The HAT has
already begun revising the electoral lists. Although a rapid
election could not be perfect, no election could be, even if the
Malagasy had six years to prepare, the head of French Cooperation
argued. The French Ambassador added that elections had been skewed
under Ravalomanana and could easily be skewed again.

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Maputo Will Not Work
3. (SBU) The French Ambassador argued that TGV's compromise offer to
the AU and the ICG already pushed him as far as he could go due to
constraints within the fragmented HAT movement. He asserted that
TGV would not participate in negotiations with the other three
movement leaders that SADC mediator Chissano was to organize, as TGV
fears meeting with those three more than he fears sanctions. He
(like us) has heard nothing of Chissano's effort to organize a next
round of talks in Addis starting next week. Thus, given the AU
communique of Feb 19, he concludes that AU sanctions are now
inevitable. He further argued that Ravalomanana was just as
intransigent and would not make a deal to save his business
interests here as he thinks he can have it all - money and power -
by letting the situation further deteriorate and coming back later
with increased popularity.

French Support for TGV
4. (SBU) The French Ambassador adamantly rejected the notion that
France is propping up TGV, and seemed unaware or disbelieving of the
extent to which that view is held here. His DCM appeared outraged
when the U.S. Ambassador asked whether or not TGV may resign. She
indicated that he has no such intention and questioned why one would
think he should. (Answer: sheer incompetence.) She reiterated her
belief that TGV was the product of a popular uprising, while the
French Ambassador argued that the opposition lacks the popularity or
ability to rally crowds to its cause. The French Ambassador noted,
and U.S. Emboffs agreed, that an agreement by all four leaders,
Rajoelina, Ravalomanana, Zafy, and Ratsiraka, not to run for
president in the next election would be an ideal solution. The
mediators had proposed this idea, but it was rejected by
Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka, and then Rajoelina, who had initially
accepted it last April, recalled the French DCM.

French Aid and Cotonou
5. (SBU) France cut budget support for Madagascar in December 2008
and does not intend to turn it back on in the current context. If
the AU proceeds to sanctions, a negative response can be expected by
the EU on frozen aid under the Cotonou Accord, said the French
Ambassador. However, he explained that even a "negative response"
would have positive implications as it would allow the EU to move
forward with humanitarian assistance which is currently in limbo.
Whatever the EU decides, France's bilateral aid will be unaffected,
he added.

Military Aid Quietly Reduced
6. (SBU) The French DATT explained that, in fact, France had
discontinued all regional and operational support for the Malagasy
military since the coup and only maintained 16 French personnel
embedded in the Malagasy military. France has not made public
announcements about such reductions here, however, and seems

ANTANANARI 00000111 002 OF 002

unperturbed by the contribution their silence is making to negative
public opinion here and elsewhere. He claimed that it was necessary
to maintain the 16 personnel as they have been instrumental in
avoiding violent clashes and maintaining stability for the past

7. (SBU) Comment: We agree with the French mainly in our current
pessimism about the way forward. Where we disagree, strongly, is
both about the utility of rushing to ill-prepared elections, which
they favor, and about the propriety and effectiveness of deep French
involvement in trying to solve this crisis for the Malagasy. We
disagree with them that rapid, unilateral elections will solve
anything, and doubt strongly that the opposition will accept the
bones thrown their way. Furthermore, it is our perception that, the
harder the French try to foster a solution (e.g. by making public
their view that HAT Prime Minister Vital is an excellent choice),
the worse matters become. Meanwhile, the Chinese are positioning
themselves for future investment here by acquiring land and mining
permits, having indicated at the Feb 18 ICG meeting in Addis that
they will never apply sanctions on the HAT. France has made it
clear that it does not intend to cut its lifeline, and the Chinese
will no doubt continue to avoid taking any political stand that
could negatively impact their economic interests. Thus, truly
isolating the leaders of the HAT to force them to comply with the
agreements that they signed looks unlikely. End comment.


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