France to increase pensions for Africa war veterans

Nicolas Sarkozy and Amadou Toumani Toure at the Elysee Palace The Mali president welcomed the pensions news as "historic"

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France will raise war pensions for its African war veterans to the same level as those of their French comrades, Nicolas Sarkozy has said.

The French president told the leaders of 12 former colonies: "There are debts which are never extinguished. It was time to recognise that."

Hundreds of thousands of Africans served France in two world wars and the Algerian war of independence.

Tens of thousands are still alive and will benefit from new pension laws.

However, the BBC's Tidiane Sy in Senegal says there has not been an enthusiastic response to the announcement.

He says most of the war veterans who campaigned for equal pensions are no longer alive, while others are so frail they are no longer able to enjoy the extra money.

'Historic decision'

Mr Sarkozy said his government had agreed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to introduce "perfect equality" of military pensions for veterans of French forces - regardless of what country they lived in.

France had previously resisted paying the same pension to veterans of its armed forces who did not live in French territory, though many are in countries that were French colonies at the time of their service.

The new military pension law will come into force next January at the latest, it is reported.

Mr Sarkozy made the announcement on Tuesday at a lunch in Paris for the 12 leaders, who are in France to take part in its national celebrations on Wednesday.

It comes after a ruling in May from France's constitutional council.

It decided that the long-established practice of paying veterans from former colonies between one-tenth and one-fifth of the benefits given to French soldiers was illegal.

One of the African leaders at the lunch, Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure, called it a "historic decision".

African veterans, who also fought in the Indochina wars of 1945-54, saw their pensions frozen at the end of the 1950s.

War veterans in other countries have fought similar battles. In Britain, retired Gurkhas have campaigned over unequal pension rights.

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