French President Francois Hollande said France was committed to finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict as he paid tribute Saturday to the 88th French soldier killed in Afghanistan.
He noted that France had deployed a field hospital in Jordan “as close as possible to the border with Syria to help not only refugees but also combatants fighting the repression of a regime which is no longer motivated by anything but the fear of its own demise.”
This “humanitarian duty” was in addition to France’s “support for the Syrian opposition and the determined search for a political transition in Syria,” he said in Varces, southeastern France.
“In Afghanistan, as in other regions of the world, our soldiers are fighting for peace, fighting for stability, fighting for human rights, every time under the mandate of the United Nations,” he said in front of the coffin of Sergeant-Major Franck Bouzet, draped in the French national flag.
Bouzet, 45, a father-of-three, was killed on Tuesday in a clash with insurgents in Kapisa province, eastern Afghanistan, where French troops are based.
Hollande, whose government last week was accused by the right-wing opposition of lack of action over Syria, was speaking at a parade of 500 troops of Bouzet’s alpine infantry regiment.
He was flanked by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and army chief of staff General Bertrand Ract Madoux.
He praised Bouzet, who had also served in Ivory Coast and the former Yugoslavia, and the medical serviceman who was seriously wounded trying to rescue him.
Hollande confirmed the timetable for French troops to leave Afghanistan, which has been brought forward by his government, saying France’s mission to help Afghans take charge of their future was finished.
By the end of the month 650 soldiers will have returned home, and 2,000 by the end of the year. The some 1,400 remaining would be for training the Afghan army.
As he spoke a second plane left an airbase in southern France with almost 100 tonnes of equipment for the field hospital in Jordan, a military spokesman said.
The spokesman said the consignment, following staff and medical supplies dispatched on Thursday to Amman, would enable the hospital, installed in a refugee camp at Mafraq, to be operational from Sunday.
An opinion poll to be published in regional newspaper Sud Ouest Dimanche Sunday indicated that 52 percent of French people favoured UN military involvement in Syria.
But 61 percent did not want to see French troops engaged in the fighting, the Ifop poll showed, up from 58 percent in June and 50 percent in May.