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Senegal's president reclaims French military bases

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal's president said Sunday the West African country was reclaiming three French military bases to mark its 50th year of independence from France. In Paris, however, officials said the bases' future was still under discussion.

President Abdoulaye Wade announced that the government would retake the bases which house some 1,200 troops, effective immediately. He said the handover would mark the final step in Senegal's separation from its former colonial master. Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.

"The presence of these French bases after all these years is seen as more and more out of place" and gives many people the impression of "incomplete independence," he said.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, however, countered that Senegal has always had "total sovereignty" over the French bases on their soil.

Wade's comments came two years after French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a major overhaul of his nation's policies toward Africa, saying that its military agreements were outdated and that France had no interest in keeping its forces permanently on the continent.

France and Senegal have been discussing the future of the bases since then, Valero said, and the talks are ongoing.

"On the future of the holdings, the calendar, etc., all that is being discussed in the run-up to agreement that — I'm sure — will satisfy both parties," Valero told RFI radio.

Details of the way France envisions its military presence in Senegal came during a visit there by French Defense Minister Herve Morin in February.

Morin announced that France was going pull many of its military personnel from Senegal, leaving behind only about 200 soldiers who would assist French boats and airplanes and also take part in bilateral efforts, his ministry said. Details are still being worked out, the ministry said.

Senegal also marked its independence on Saturday by unveiling a 160-foot (50-meter)-high bronze statue depicting a family rising triumphantly from a volcano that is supposed to symbolize Africa's renaissance.

But the monument has drawn criticism from many in the poverty-stricken country because of its $27 million price tag.