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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pression accrue sur la rébellion tchadienne

by Anne Roy

Pressure on the Rebellion in Chad Increases

Translated Friday 8 February 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

N’Djamena, Feb. 6, 2008. Civilians continued yesterday to flee the capital in the direction of neighboring Cameroon. Paris, strengthened by the backing of the UN Security Council, has renewed its grievances against the rebel alliance.

“If France must do her duty in Chad, she will.” As the warning that President Nicolas Sarkozy made yesterday shows, France has abandoned the relative reserve she had observed during the initial hours of the rebel assault on N’Djamena on Saturday. Now backed by the United Nations Security Council, which has condemned the attempted putsch and called on UN members to defend President Idriss Déby, France is now threatening to intervene militarily against the rebellion if the rebels launch a new offensive. The rebel forces said they were posted on the outskirts of the capital, awaiting reinforcements. The rebels had entered N’Djamena on Saturday before being pushed back the following day by forces loyal to President Idriss Déby, who was conducting military operations from within his presidential palace.

Rebel about-face.

Having declared themselves to be under “very strong pressure” from diplomatic quarters to accept a truce, the rebels finally did another about-face yesterday. Whereas one spokesperson for the rebel alliance had just announced “an immediate cease-fire” due to “the suffering of the population of Chad,” another stated his conditions a few minutes later: “We are in favor of a cease-fire if the mediators find a solution that provides for President Idriss Déby leaving the government.”

“Why cease fire? They don’t exist any more! Who are we going to sign a cease-fire with? We’ve put them down!” Nourredine Delwa Kassiré, the Prime Minister of Chad, exclaimed, stating that the game was over. According to him, the rebel forces had been decimated and “the remnants are being pursued some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from N’Djamena.” “We’re are hiding under the trees and are spread out over twenty kilometers, ten to thirty kilometers to the north,” said Abderaman Koulamallah, the rebel spokesperson, who added: “N’Djamena can brag all it wants, we are encircling the city and our forces are practically intact.”

Thus the situation was still very tense in N’Djamena yesterday. Taking advantage of the interruption in the fighting and of the opening of the bridge to the capital of Cameroon, several tens of thousands of people have fled the country in an unbroken stream since Sunday afternoon. The neighboring Cameroon city of Kousseri was “submerged” yesterday as a result, according to statements to the High Commission for Refugees, whose first five-member team has arrived on the spot to evaluate the situation. Some refugees have been taken in by relatives or in the municipal schools, but most of them spent the night outdoors, completely destitute and exposed to the elements.

The HCR was considering evacuating the refugees thirty kilometers further on, to Maltam. The situation was also worrying in N’Djamena, which has been devastated by burning and looting. Unable as yet to give the total number of deaths, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was finding it difficult to move about the country due to the reigning insecurity, put the number of wounded in the N’Djamena hospitals at about 1000, mostly civilians. That figure is still temporary because “many victims have not been able to get to the hospital.” Moreover, the rebels escalated their accusations against France, which presently has nearly 1500 soldiers in Chad, together with fighter, reconnaissance and transport planes as part of the “Epervier” task force. Whereas up to now the rebels have limited themselves to denouncing the French army for having allowed the helicopters of the forces loyal to Idriss Déby to take off from the airport that the French army has been using to evacuate foreign nationals from Chad, yesterday the rebels accused the French army of having already intervened directly in the fighting and of having “caused an enormous number of civilian deaths.” These statements were immediately denied by the French minister of defense, who declared that the French army had observed the limits imposed by the 1976 cooperation agreement linking it to Chad, and which concerns “support, logistics and medical care.”

The military position of France.

“In no case has France intervened militarily to take part in the fighting between the rebel forces and the Chad national army,” he added. Moreover, when questioned about the unmotivated arrests since Sunday of members of the civilian opposition to Idriss Déby, the French minister avoided voicing any criticism. “Give us 24 or 48 hours before we go into these questions.” And he added: “I am wary of rumors. I have often found in the course of the past three days that there have been a whole series of rumors which did not have much basis in reality.”

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