PARIS, JUNE 23 -- A French court today threw out Haiti's request to force deposed president Jean-Claude Duvalier to reimburse $120 million that the new government said he looted from his poverty-stricken Caribbean nation during 15 years in power.

The civil court in Grasse, near the Riviera, said it was unqualified to judge the case on technical grounds and suggested the Haitian government should have first brought suit against Duvalier in the Haitian Supreme Court.

Although the Haitian government was given 10 days to appeal, the judgment appeared to open the way for the French authorities to unfreeze most of Duvalier's considerable assets in France, which include a chateau outside Paris.

A U.S. appeals court made a similar ruling earlier this month involving more than $1.5 billion in assets claimed by deposed Philippine leader Ferdinand E. Marcos.

The court, in San Francisco, reversed a lower court's ruling in 1986 to freeze the assets while the government of Philippine President Corazon C. Aquino sought judgment on its claim that the funds were plundered from government coffers. Despite the ruling, the funds remain frozen pending further appeals.

Before the Duvalier trial opened in May, Haitian Justice Minister Francois Saint-Fleur said he hoped a French court order for the return of the $120 million could be cited as a precedent for similar lawsuits by Haiti in other countries where much of Duvalier's money is believed hidden.

Switzerland often has been cited and, at Haiti's request, the Swiss government has frozen Duvalier's bank accounts there.

Since February 1986, when Duvalier and his family were forced to flee aboard a U.S. military transport plane flown to Grenoble, the movements of the 35-year-old former president and his entourage have been restricted to a short stretch of the Riviera.

The Duvaliers live at Mougins in a walled estate, called Mohammedia, rented from the family of Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi.

The French authorities have refused to grant Duvalier's request for political asylum, but their unwanted guest and his entourage remain in France because no country has been willing to accept them.

The Grasse court said that, according to French jurisprudence, only an administrative tribunal could judge such a case pitting a foreign state against its "agents" or their beneficiaries.

That was the formal term that the Haitian government used to describe Duvalier and his finance minister, Frantz Merceron, who it said had misappropriated state funds.

The civil court added that French jurisprudence applied "even if the internal law of that foreign state {Haiti} was different."

The case was brought by the Haitian state, the Haitian state lottery, the vehicle insurance office, the control commission of games of chance and the Credit Bank of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

The civil court, which appeared to follow closely points made by Duvalier's French lawyer, Sauveur Vaisse, suggested that the Haitian government should have first brought the case before the Haitian Supreme Court.

Under French law, neither Duvalier nor his 37-year-old wife, Michele, were required to appear in court at any time in the proceedings, which began with a pretrial hearing in March.