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French Favor Kosovo Military Action

April 19, 1999

PARIS (AP) _ On paper, it seemed a combination sure to rile public opinion: The United States, the ally France loves to criticize, leading a bombing campaign against the Serbs, a former ally.

But surprisingly, a strong, unwavering consensus in favor of NATO military action in Kosovo has built up in France. If anything, polls show, the French would prefer to go a step further and send in ground troops.

``We cannot enter a new millennium allowing dictators to perpetrate the follies of the past,″ said Jean-Paul Fevre, a 55-year-old Parisian lawyer.

``Ideally, Europe would be able to deal with this problem alone. But that’s not possible.″

Tweaking old sensitivities, a leading leftist news magazine suggested France was betraying itself by letting the United States dictate the world’s response to Serb actions in Kosovo.

``The Americans are our allies ... but they must not become our bosses, our brains, our memories,″ L’Evenement du Jeudi said in an editorial.

But whereas such rhetoric has succeeded in the past, notably during the Persian Gulf War, it has so far fallen on deaf ears.

According to a poll published Sunday, 70 percent of the French public favors NATO intervention in Kosovo, and 64 percent says ground troops should be sent in if airstrikes aren’t successful. Seventy-four percent approves of French participation.

The poll by the IPSOS firm questioned 971 people nationwide. Such polls normally carry a 2 to 3 percentage point margin of error.

French authorities have carefully practiced damage control. Officials have continually stressed this is not a war against the Serb people, but against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Opposition to the strikes has surfaced among unlikely partners, such as Communist Party leader Robert Hue and far-right leaders Jean-Marie Le Pen and Bruno Megret. Also from the left, Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who resigned as defense minister to protest French involvement in the U.S.-led coalition in the Gulf War, is opposed to French involvement.

But polls show support for Hue and Le Pen dropping, while the public is rallying behind President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, both of whom have consistently, and vigorously, condemned Belgrade.

``I think the shift in French public opinion has been noticeable and I would even say spectacular,″ said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations.

``The key element is probably the images of refugees on French television and a kind of humanitarian reaction: We can’t allow that to take place.″

Also, many French fear the conflict, if unresolved, will have grave repercussions for Europe.

``Kosovo will either be an incredible catalyst for European political integration. Or it will dissolve Europe’s raison d’etre,″ the left-wing Liberation daily said in an editorial backing military intervention.

Le Monde said Western nations had to clarify their goals so as not to sow confusion, and, ultimately, dissent. ``This is a matter of defending values which are the future of Europe,″ it said.

French fighter jets are part of the war machine even though France has long, and proudly, stayed out of NATO’s military wing.

But there are still fears about potential repercussions from the bombing campaign.

Some nervously eye Russia’s historical ties with the Serbs, recalling its recent vociferous protests against NATO bombings.

``I’m all in favor of doing whatever is necessary to beat Milosevic,″ said Jacqueline Dely, a 44-year-old teacher. ``But we mustn’t provoke the Russians too much.

``Just because they’re tied to us economically now doesn’t mean they’ll stay out of this conflict forever.″

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