Chad ready to discuss French troop presence
Chad on Wednesday signalled readiness to negotiate the French military presence on its soil after France's foreign minister said Paris was mulling a troop withdrawal from its former central African colony.
"Chad is prepared to begin negotiations with French authorities as early as next week on the presence of Operation Epervier (Sparrowhawk)," a senior ministry official told AFP as President Idriss Deby and his foreign minister Moussa Faki were on a visit to Benin.
"Epervier has been in Chad for 25 years. It is time to review this structure to adapt to the current context," the official added.
Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris was in talks with Chad over a new cooperation agreement and said the presence of around 1,000 French troops under Operation Epervier was no longer justified and that they should be repatriated.
On Wednesday, the French foreign ministry however would only say that a "discussion was under way" with Chad on the future of the French military contingent, which was first deployed in 1986 to deter a Libyan military offensive.
And a key Chadian rebel leader welcomed comments Juppe's comments.
"We are very pleased with Mr Juppe's remarks. It's a very good thing," General Mahamat Nouri, head of the National Alliance for Change and Democracy (ANCD) said from Doha.
"France must abandon Deby," he added.
Last August, Deby called for a revision of the military agreement between Chad and France, accusing Paris of paying nothing for its troop presence.
Meanwhile Nouri said his group had no hard feelings toward the French military contingent, which he said had always backed Deby.
"We (the rebels) would probably be in power were it not for the French troops," he added.
In February 2008, Chadian insurgents reached the gates of the presidential palace in Ndjamena but the tide turned when France provided key intelligence and ammunition to government forces who were able to beat back the divided rebellion.
Nouri also described as a "good thing" France's help in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the extremist network's north African offshoot, in the Sahel but made it clear that French soldiers "must not remain in Chad."
AQIM has bases in northern Mali from where it carries out armed attacks and kidnappings for ransom in the Sahel desert region, where the group is also tied to arms and drugs trafficking.
"France is today writing a new chapter of its bilateral relations with Chad. This chapter can only lead to the establishment of a genuine democracy where justice, freedom, political change and good governance will not remain empty words," Nouri said.
He pledged that his group would do its utmost to bring about peaceful change and hailed France's "determination to pursue a transparent, credible foreign policy in line with its historical and cultural values."
Nouri has been living in exile in Doha since he was expelled from Sudan following a thaw in relations between Khartoum and Ndjamena.
© 2011 AFP