French Prime Minister François Fillon began a brief west African tour Thursday starting in Cameroon and aimed at launching what he called "modernised cooperation" with the continent.
In Cameroon, run by President Paul Biya since 1982, officials signed a "new generation" defence agreement, which no longer provides for French military intervention as earlier ones did.During a dinner hosted by Biya, Fillon said it had become "urgent to modernise our cooperation" in this domain, and also to take the secrecy out of such pacts.
French junior defence minister Jean-Marie Bockel, who signed the accord, praised it for strictly respecting Cameroon's independence.
France's junior minister for cooperation, Alain Joyandet, said: "We're trying to get out of a paternalist relationship to begin a strategic partnership."
Fillon later addressed the situation in the former French colony of Chad, which recently pursued rebels inside Sudan after repulsing a May 4 offensive.
Chad and Sudan regularly accuse each other of supporting rebel movements in their respective countries. Chad's recent military action inside Sudan further raised tensions between them.
"Everyone can see very well that the solution to the problems of Chad are not to be found in Chad," said Fillon during a discussions with students at the international relations institute in Yaounde.
"They are to be found in Sudan, they are to be found in the resolution of conflicts which affect Sudan and its neighbours," he said, apparently referring to unrest in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.
On the presence of French troops in Chad, Fillon said neither he nor President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to see them play a role in its internal politics.
"That is the reason why these armed forces did not intervene during the crisis that has taken place in Chad," he said.
The revision of defence pacts between France and some of its former colonies was a key issue in the Africa policy laid out by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a speech in February in South Africa.
Togo came before Cameroon, and the Central African Republic and the Comoros Islands are next on the list.
Fillon, who arrived on Wednesday night, briefly took part in a reception in Biya's giant palace for Yaounde authors on the day of the Cameroonian National Holiday.
On Thursday morning, he visited a construction site, and then went into talks with Biya for half an hour.
On Friday, Fillon is due to fly on to neighbouring Nigeria, where he will stay until Saturday. He plans to visit the oil-producing Niger Delta region in the south, where there has recently been an upsurge of violence by a group that claims a bigger share of the oil wealth for local communities.