Libreville: French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told his country`s troops in Gabon on Sunday that they will form the backbone of Paris` forces in its former colonies in West Africa.
Under a new defence plan for West Africa that is seeing France renegotiate agreements with a number of ex-colonies, the role of the French base in Gabon will be "reinforced" to form the "essential part" of the country`s forces in the region, Fillon said during a visit to Gabon.
The base will be "at the heart" of a rapid-reaction force, said Fillon, who was visiting Camp de Gaulle in Libreville, where about 900 French soldiers are based.
"France`s military presence on the continent has often been, in the past, the target of suspicions that have weighed on our image," said Fillon.
In order to reduce such suspicions, French President Nicolas Sarkozy "wanted to overhaul all of our (defence) agreements in order to make them transparent”, Fillon said, leading to the renegotiations of defence agreements.