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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Chad - The Rebels Won

The Guardian

Chad rebels besiege presidential palace· Déby caught unprepared for swift move on capital · EU delays deployment of Darfur troops as UN leaves Chris McGreal, Africa correspondentMonday February 4, 2008

  • Rebel forces cut Chad's capital in two yesterday and laid siege to the palace where President Idriss Déby was overseeing a last effort to save his authoritarian 18-year rule.
  • Reports said bodies littered the streets of N'Djamena and looters were ransacking shops while government forces resisted the rebel assault with helicopter gunships and tanks.
  • The assault has forced the European Union to delay the deployment of a 3,700-strong peacekeeping force, dominated by France, to protect hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees from Darfur now living in eastern Chad from cross-border raids, and may possibly prevent it taking place at all.
  • The government in N'Djamena accuses Sudan of backing the rebels to block the European intervention. A Darfuri rebel commander told Reuters yesterday that Sudanese government planes and vehicles were attacking the Chadian border town of Adré.
  • French officials said they offered to evacuate Déby but he had refused to leave. France has previously used its forces stationed in Chad to keep threats to Déby at bay but so far the 1,400-strong French military contingent has apparently concentrated on evacuating hundreds of foreigners.
  • The defence minister, Hervé Morin, said France will remain neutral in the conflict, perhaps reflecting the promised shift in Africa policy away from propping up unpopular client regimes.
  • The United Nations said it was evacuating all its personnel.
  • US embassy staff and more than 200 Chinese oil workers were also flown out.
  • The French news agency reported French military sources as saying there were about 2,000 rebel fighters and that Déby had up to 3,000 troops.
  • It also reported that government helicopters attacked a column of rebels moving towards the main radio station. French Mirage combat planes were seen flying over the city but apparently were not involved in the fighting.
  • The rebel force attacking N'Djamena is a coalition of three groups led by Timane Erdimi, who is a close relative of Déby, and Mahamat Nouri, a former defence minister. The groups have for several years operated out of Sudan, leading Chad to accuse Khartoum of backing them.
  • But Déby has clan links to some leaders of the Darfur rebellion, who launched attacks in Sudan and aggravated relations with Khartoum. Two years ago they worsened further after Sudanese militias launched raids on refugees from Darfur in Chad, also driving tens of thousands of Chadians from their homes.
  • Chad's foreign minister, Ahmad Allam-Mi, has accused Sudan of backing the latest attempt to overthrow Déby in order to block the EU peacekeeping mission.
    "Sudan does not want this force because it would open a window on the genocide in Darfur," he told Radio France Internationale.
  • He said Sudan was trying "to install a regime in Chad that will bow to it".
    Yesterday Sudan denied backing the rebels. "We are not supporting the rebels. We have no connection with them," a foreign ministry spokesman in Khartoum told Reuters. "They started from eastern Chad and they moved to the capital."
  • The Libyan leader, Muammar Gadafy, attempted to broker a ceasefire but the rebels are divided and he was apparently unable to get the three factions to agree.
  • The African Union has said it will not recognise a rebel government if it seizes power.

Victory by the rebel United Front for Change, a coalition of three forces, would have important regional consequences. Chad is home to about 420,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region, who may be made more vulnerable by a rebel victory because of the UFC's ties to the government in Khartoum. About 180,000 Chadians have also been forced into camps by the conflict.

EU ministers have approved the deployment of 3,700 peacekeepers to eastern Chad to protect refugees and aid operations from cross-border raids from Sudan but that has been held up by the sudden increase in fighting.

The bulk of the force is to come from France, Chad's former colonial ruler. Rebels threatened to attack peacekeepers who stood in their way and one group has declared war on foreign troops.

The rebel assault may also impact on Chad's position as a major oil exporter since the completion of a $3.7bn pipeline linking its oilfields to terminals on the Atlantic coast, run by US and Malaysian multinationals.

Chad has also just signed a major joint venture with China, but most of the Chinese working in the African state have now been evacuated.

The Rest @ The Gaurdian

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