In his opening address on the opening day of the 24th France-African summit, Chirac called on the Sudanese government and rebels to accept the deployment of an international peace force in Darfur.
"I ask all the combatants and the government of Sudan... to accept the deployment of a peace force, to stop all attacks, to respect civilian populations and humanitarian workers, to understand the dead end and horror of a policy for the worst and to choose reconciliation," Chirac said.
A civil war has been taking place in Darfur since February 2003, causing some 200,000 deaths and the displacement of at least 2.5 million people.
In December, Sudanese authorities agreed to let the United Nations bring technical and material aid to the peace mission of the African Union, but refused to allow the deployment of UN peacekeepers.
A meeting by leaders of nations concerned by the Darfur crisis, including Sudanese President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir and Chad's head of state Idriss Deby, has been tentatively scheduled to take place on the margin of the summit.
Darfur crisis tops the summit agenda
Darfur is the most pressing issue on the agenda of the two-day summit, which is very likely to be Chirac's last, since he is expected to announce soon that he will not stand for another term in this year's presidential election.
Some 30 African leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency -- joined Chirac in Cannes to discuss a number of regional problems, such as Darfur and the internal crisis in Guinea.
For her part, Merkel called on the neighbors of Zimbabwe to put pressure on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to end the hardship caused by his policies. "It is with great worry that we observe the situation in Zimbabwe: the intimidation of political opponents, the hardship, the threats to farmers, the destruction of neighborhoods housing the poor -- all of which has absolutely no justification," Merkel told summit participants.
Merkel criticizes Mugabe's Zimbabwe
"This is why I launch an appeal to the states bordering Zimbabwe to join their forces to ours and make all their influence count to aid the men and women in their suffering," the German chancellor said.
Zimbabwe refused to attend the summit because France demanded that the government send someone in place of Mugabe, who is banned from traveling to EU member states because of sanctions imposed in 2002 for human rights violations.
South African President Thabo Mbeki and Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo are also not attending the Cannes summit.
Nevertheless, 48 of Africa's 53 states are represented in Cannes, with many of the leaders coming to say farewell to Chirac, who has long been active in nurturing relations with France's former colonies on the continent.
These ties are now being threatened by nationalist movements as well as by the diplomatic and economic inroads by United States and China.
Merkel said that the European Union "will invite the African nations to a summit in the second half of 2007," which will be held in Portugal, Germany's successor as EU president.