Sarkozy condemns Chad rebels, evacuees arrive in France
Sarkozy strongly condemned a rebel offensive to topple the Chadian government as first evacuated foreigners reached the safety of French soil
PARIS, February 3, 2008 - France's President Nicolas Sarkozy strongly
condemned a rebel offensive to topple the Chadian government Sunday as a first
batch of evacuated foreigners reached the safety of French soil.
During telephone talks with Chadian President Idriss Deby, Sarkozy "said
again that France... strongly condemns the attempt to seize power by armed
groups coming from the outside," presidential spokesman David Martinon said.
Paris's reaction came after fierce fighting between rebels and government
forces rocked the Chadian capital, handing French troops in the central
African country the twin challenge of getting hundreds of foreigners out
safely and staying out of harm's way themselves.
Hours later, the government and the army said the rebellion had been
quashed although a rebel leader maintained that their forces had simply pulled
back temporarily from the capital to allow civilians time to leave.
A first French military aircraft touched down at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle
airport outside Paris, carrying 202 foreigners evacuated from Ndjamena via the
Gabonese capital Libreville.
Chad's conflict has left former colonial power France walking a tightrope
as it tries to salvage a European peacekeeping mission for Darfur refugees and
prevent its forces from being drawn into combat.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, while condemning a "brutal attack on a
legal government, against an elected president" has made it clear the 1,450
French troops would not get involved.
French forces are in Chad to provide logistical and intelligence support to
President Idriss Deby's regime, and Paris sent an extra 150 troops to help
evacuate foreign nationals.
But the French military has been drawn into fighting in Chad in the past:
in 2006, they helped fight off another rebel assault on Ndjamena, to the anger
of Deby's opponents.
On Sunday a rebel spokesman accused French forces of allowing Chadian army
helicopters to take off from Ndjamena airport and attack a rebel column in the
Two French soldiers were lightly injured by debris during the fighting, but
an armed forces spokesman said he did not think they were deliberately
France has reaffirmed its support for Deby's regime, and offered to help
Deby leave the country -- turned down by the Chadian leader, who seized power
at the head of a rebel force with French support in 1990.
While condemning the rebel assault, Kouchner called Saturday for "a truce,
negotiations and an agreement" between the government and the rebels.
The violence has already caused the suspension of a planned European
peacekeeping force (EUFOR) deployment to Chad and neighbouring Central African
Republic, now put back to Wednesday.
"Nobody has the intention of giving up this operation," Defence Minister
Herve Morin said of the EUFOR deployment, championed by France to protect
refugees from Sudan's Darfur province just over the border.
Chad's Foreign Minister Amad Allam-Mi has accused Sudan of masterminding
the rebel offensive in a bid to halt the deployment.
Khartoum on Sunday denied any involvement but Kouchner told the Journal du
Dimanche newspaper that it was "absolutely certain that these Chadian (rebel)
forces come from Sudan."
Paris fears that a foothold in Chad would enable Khartoum to further
undermine international efforts to end the Darfur conflict, and hopes a
negotiated settlement could prevent Sudan from extending its influence in Chad.
Philippe Hugon of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations
(IRIS) said that "in a country of clan wars where all alliances are possible,
a political solution might be conceivable."
"We get the feeling Paris waited 48 hours to see what the balance of power
was, with a very wait-and-see attitude," said Antoine Glaser, a journalist and
expert on Franco-African relations.
Now, as Deby resists the rebel assault, holed up in the presidential
palace, "the position of support for Idriss Deby seems to have won," Glaser
Regional experts say the rebels, operating far from their bases on the
Sudanese border, risk rapidly running out of supplies and ammunition.
In any event, Morin said the new fighting could be "crucial" in the battle
for control of the former French colony.