PARIS (Reuters) - France has authorized its military to participate in a United Nations operation in Ivory Coast to protect civilians against escalating violence, President Nicolas Sarkozy's Elysee Palace office said on Monday.
The Elysee Palace said the operation aimed to neutralize heavy weapons belonging to troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo who are fighting forces supporting Alassane Ouattara's rival claim to the presidency.
"The Secretary General of the United Nations requested the support of French forces in these operations," said the statement, which added that Sarkozy had responded favorably and in line with a U.N. mandate to protect civilians.
France has close to 12,000 nationals in the ex-colony and announced earlier on Monday that it was sending in a further 150 soldiers from Gabon, which would bring the number of French troops there to 1,650.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)