God Bless The French (uh, not religious referent)
ABOARD JEANNE D'ARC (AP) - The naval ship's pantry is stocked with wines, baguettes and pate, and its casual dress code is shorts and sandals. There's even an artist - a painter to keep an illustrated record of the trip.
With a panache all its own, France's military is delivering aid to tsunami-battered Indonesia - and showing how a small force can make a difference.
A month after killer waves struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the French are part of an international relief operation that includes forces from more than a dozen nations, including Japan, Russia and Switzerland.
The 1,000 or so French sailors and soldiers arrived in Aceh province on the island's northern tip two weeks ago. Their 11 helicopters and two C-160 cargo planes are airlifting rice and tents to isolated villages devastated by the Dec. 26 earthquake-generated waves, which killed at least 145,000 people in Asia and Africa.
"The children are smiling again. This is a good sign," said Maj. Francois Masse, a veteran pilot of French relief work in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chad.
Although media attention has focused on the U.S. contribution, particularly by the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group, aid officials say the French and other forces are playing an equally important role.
"(The French) increase our capacity to move loads into some areas where roads have yet to be reconstructed. Trucks cannot reach these areas," said Daniel Augstburger, head of the U.N.'s relief work on Sumatra's western coast.
That responsibility likely will increase once the Americans leave with their three dozen helicopters.
The French, who also are conducting relief operations in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, object to comparisons with the Americans.
"The feeling we had in France was that, as usual, the Americans were rushing in force to Indonesia and boasting about it," said flotilla spokeswoman Cmdr. Anne Cullerre. "For some people, it seemed outrageous.
"How can you really boast of doing something from this tragedy? People were saying, 'They are doing it again. They are showing off.'"
Vice Adm. Rolin Xavier, who heads the French military effort, dubbed Operation Beryx, said, "We are not in the shadow of the Americans but we work alongside them."
Critics of the U.S. military's work in Indonesia say Washington has seized on the disaster as a pretext for advancing its strategic interests in the archipelago and improving ties with the Indonesian military.
During her recent Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the tsunami provided a "wonderful opportunity" for the United States to reap "great dividends" in the region.
The dispatch of the USS Abraham Lincoln's strike force has been viewed in some quarters as an effort not only to help survivors, but also to burnish America's image among Islamic communities worldwide by delivering aid to the largest Muslim country in the world.
The French maintain they do not have strategic interests in the region.
The contrast with U.S. forces does not end there. The U.S. military bans alcohol aboard naval vessels. But French sailors aboard the Jeanne D'Arc pick from wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks, and their ready-made meals come with pate. On deck, they sunbathe in the muggy heat in shorts and sandals.
However, what really sets the French apart is the paunchy, bearded civilian riding a sloop to the shore. He is artist Michel Bellion, appointed to paint the French military in action in his trademark bold strokes and bright colors.
"I'm here to show the drama," said Bellion, pulling out a sketch book.
We see, once again, how the imperialist jesuslandiers attempt to turn the world's suffering into gain. The French bring a civilizing force to the indigenous peoples of the third world,; baguettes, brie, wines, and waa laa, a painter.
What is the united states amerikkkaners of jesusland's response to a disaster of tsumanicopian proportions? To send in a freaking military force, a battleship.