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France, Britain seal 1.49 billion pound drone deal, pressure Russia on Syria

AMIENS, France (Reuters) - France and Britain agreed on Thursday to a 2 billion euro (1.49 billion pound) project to build a drone, as the two allies firmed up military ties amid conflicts in Syria and Libya.

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President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister David Cameron met in northern France as part of a bi-annual summit commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in which 600,000 British and French soldiers died.

The two leaders also sought to show their unity on the Syria crisis before a conference call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.

Paris and London want to apply pressure on Moscow to stop supporting advances by the Syrian government on Western-backed rebels that they say will be key players in any peace deal.

Cameron and Hollande announced plans for what they said was a new multi-use unmanned aircraft that would be ready for technical checks in 2020 and operational a decade later.

“This will be the most advanced of it kind in Europe,” Cameron told a joint news conference, saying the project would create significant numbers of jobs in both countries.

Each side will contribute equally to the Future Combat Air System project, based on a 120-million-pound joint feasibility study agreed in 2014, official said.

Britain's BAE Systems BAES.L and Rolls-Royce RR.L, along with Dassault Aviation AVMD.PA, Safran SAF.PA and Thales TCFP.PA of France, are taking part, they added.

France and Britain, both permanent veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council, are engaged in air strikes on Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Hollande and Cameron are also backers of the “moderate” Syrian opposition and repeated their concerns that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and allies including Russia were continue to target rebel forces despite a new cessation of hostilities deal.

“We are putting pressure on all the players so that the bombings don’t start again and that there is a real negotiation in which the opposition has its place,” Hollande said, referring to inter-Syrian peace talks that are due to resume on March 9 in Geneva.

“We need Russia to understand that there is an opposition that should not be confused with Islamic State,” he said.

Both men said it was vital that the government was in place before the Spring to ensure that Islamic State did not use migration routes across the Mediterranean to send fighters from Libya to Europe.

“I don’t think we can wait to start talking to the government ... we can’t have another migration route opening up, Cameron said.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Andrew Callus and Andrew Heavens