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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Des soldats français dans les combats à N’Djamena ?

by Anne Roy

Are French Soldiers Fighting in N’Djamena?

Translated Sunday 24 February 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

Chad, February 9, 2008. French special forces soldiers are said to have participated in the clashes, but this is denied by Paris. The international organizations express their concern.

“No French soldier and no special forces are engaged,” the French defense ministry keeps repeating. Nonetheless, in yesterday’s issue of La Croix, there was more detailed information on the way “French special forces took part in last week’s clashes.” Citing “information provided by French diplomats and military personnel,” La Croix stated that “In particular, French officers coordinated the attack launched on Feburary 1st by the Chad army against the rebel column in Massaguet.” However this attack failed to halt the advance of the rebel forces on N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, and France then offered to evacuate the president of Chad. Even though, if La Croix is to be believed, “right from the following day elements of the French special forces command were involved in the fighting in N’Djamena, using a strategy that proved to be the right one: wearing down the rebels who were soon short of munitions.”

European Union Meeting.

Whereas the ambassadors of the European Union were to meet yesterday to decide on relaunching the deployment of Eufor, the question of the role of the French army in the fighting was again foremost in everyone’s mind. “If one of the member countries of Eufor was taking an active part in the fighting by putting its troops at the disposition of one of the belligerent parties, the European Union ought to reconsider the engagement of Eufor,” Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said yesterday. His country is to supply 160 of the 3700 soldiers (including over 2000 French soldiers) and has already sent a first detachment of about 15 soldiers, who have been stuck for several days in a hotel in downtown N’Djamena for security reasons. The previous day, Idriss Déby’s declaration that he was ready to “pardon” the members of the Arche de Zoe, who were sentenced to eight years at forced labor for kidnapping children, immediately relaunched the debate on a possible link to the aid that he has received from France.

The President of Chad proved to be in much less of a hurry to answer accusations by several NGOs that his government has taken advantage of the rebel attack to settle scores with the civilian opposition. Former head of state Lol Mahamat Choua, the president of the committee charged with overseeing the process that is to lead to democratic elections, Mahamat Saleh Ibni Oumar, the leader of the main opposition coalition, and radical opponent Ngarléji Yorongar were arrested on unknown charges and taken to an undisclosed place. These are just “details” for Idriss Déby, who stated that he preferred to take care of “essential business.” For its part, Amnesty International, whose deputy director for Africa speaks in terms of “a gigantic witch hunt,” stated yesterday that it had received information indicating that “on February 6, at least three men were executed by the Chad army. The men’s lifeless corpses were then thrown into the Chari river.”

Yesterday the United Nations High Commission on Refugees expressed its concern regarding the return of the refugees and demanded the creation of a humanitarian air bridge between Abéché, N’Djamena and the eastern part of Chad.

The guarantee of a lasting solution.

On February 4, the Committee to follow up the call for peace and reconciliation in Chad warned of the extreme fragility of a situation which is based only on a “military victory between Chad people.” “Only political negotiations conducted in the presence of an arbitrator and mediators can guarantee a lasting solution,” it said in a communiqué. “Such a process requires the participation of all the players in the political and military crisis in Chad.”

Anne Roy

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