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France to withdraw Libya carrier

Agencies | Updated: 2011-08-05 06:25

MARSEILLE, France - France will bring home its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier from its Libyan mission next week for maintenance, Defence Minister Gerard Longuet told the regional daily Var-Matin.

France will move its Rafale fighter jets from the carrier, moored off the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, to NATO's base in Sicily for the time being. Longuet did not say if the Charles de Gaulle would be sent back after maintenance.

"We are in a situation of redeployment of our resources in order to support the NATO mission until the end," Longuet told Var-Matin in an interview published on Thursday.

The carrier, deployed since March in the NATO-led Libya operation and at sea for many months before that, will stay in operation until at least Aug. 10 and dock at the Mediterranean port of Toulon before Aug. 15 for technical checks and to rest its personnel.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, interviewed on France 2 television, said forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had proven tougher than expected but he continued to voice determination to see things through to the finish.

"We undoubtedly underestimated the resistance of pro-Gaddafi forces," he said. "(But) one cannot talk of stalemate."

Longuet, who spoke to the Var-Matin newspaper while visiting a naval base on the Mediterranean coast this week, said there would be no easing off of France's part in the military operation, where it has taken a driving role since the start.

"Gaddafi should not expect any respite," Longuet said. "France, which is behind a quarter of the sorties and a third of the air strikes, will keep up its effort."

France had said in June that it planned to withdraw the nuclear-powered carrier in the autumn. Some 20 aircraft have been based on the ship for sorties over Libya, including Rafales, Hawkeyes and attack helicopters.

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