12:00 AM, May 26, 2009
First French foreign military base in 50 years opens in the UAE
French president Nicolas Sarkozy opened a French military base in the United Arab Emirates today. It is the first permanent French base in the Gulf region as well as the first French overseas military base in 50 years. Called “Peace camp", the base on the banks of the Strait of Hormuz accommodates 500 troops. It contains a navy and air force base and a training camp. President Sarkozy had already announced that France wanted to play an important role in the stability of the region. The base could be used as a show of strength in UAE’s dispute with Iran over a group of islands in the region. Rear Adml Ahmed al Tunaiji, chief of the UAE’s Naval Forces, said on the sidelines of a conference held before the base opening that the base could not be defined in traditional terms comparable to the US military bases in Qatar and Bahrain. Instead, he said, it was more of a “camp”. “This is not a base as we know it, it is more of a residence where crews can come here to rest,” he is reported to have told journalists. Admiral Pierre François Forissier, head of the French Navy, outlined details of the base at the conference The base – named “Peace Camp” – will see French military personnel and hardware stationed permanently at Mina Zayed port and Al Dhafra Air Base. Later, in an interview with an Abu Dhabi based newspaper, The National, Admiral Forissier said the naval part of the base would include nearly 80 non-combatants. “The administration of the Indian Ocean fleet will be based here. It’s only administrative,” he was quoted as saying. He emphasized that the base is not an operational base, “it’s not a base to practise military activities, it’s just to support our permanent deployment in the area to secure our lines of communication”. Admiral Forissier said that the army and air force division of the base would be used for training to fight in a desert environment. He said Mr Sarkozy had instructed that about six Rafale fighter jets should be stationed at the base, as that would make their deployment easier than having to bring them from France. There is a possibility that the base could be used as a launching pad in France’s anti-piracy efforts. The French have been one of the most active navies in the multi-national effort to curb pricy around the horn of Africa area. “Today it’s not possible because we’re just at the beginning and yet we’re developing good practices and rules to work against pirates.”, the admiral added.