Chad uprising fades as France backs government

Posted in Africa | 06-Feb-08 | Author: Lydia Polgreen| Source: International Herald Tribune

Wounded Chadian government soldiers being evacuated at N'djamena airport on Tuesday for treatment in Libya.

NDJAMENA, Chad: A rebellion aimed at toppling the president of Chad appeared to falter Tuesday as France declared that it would intervene to protect the Chadian government if called upon and a Darfur rebel group with close ties to the Chadian government said it had sent troops to help bolster the president, Idriss Déby.

French military officials in Chad said that the rebels were now far from the capital, Ndjamena, and that the city was quiet. For the first time since the weekend the sound of automatic gunfire had disappeared. But the streets were almost empty. Thousands of residents had fled into neighboring Cameroon and those who remained were sheltering indoors, according to French soldiers who patrolled the city in armored vehicles.

The streets were littered with bodies decomposing in the hot sun and the blackened husks of pickup trucks used by government and rebel fighters, according to footage broadcast by Al Jazeera, the Arabic television network.

French support, along with assistance from rebel fighters from a Sudanese rebel group with ties to Déby's family, strengthened the government's position markedly.

Responding to questions from journalists in France as to whether French soldiers would intervene to help Déby's government, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said "if France must do its duty, it will do so," adding, "Let no one doubt it."

A commander from the Justice and Equality Movement, a Darfur rebel group that has been fighting Sudan's government and its allied militias in the war-ravaged region for the past five years, said that some of the rebellion's troops had left their base in eastern Chad, along the border with Sudan, to reinforce government troops.

The addition of Darfur rebels to the fray further complicates an already tangled conflict that has enmeshed Chad and Sudan, two of the most violent and fragile countries in Africa. The two countries have accused one another of fostering rebellions against each other, and events in recent days provide evidence that both sides are probably right.

The Chadian rebels who sought to topple Déby have sheltered in Sudan, something that would certainly require Sudanese government approval, analysts and diplomats said. The Darfur rebels operate openly in eastern Chad, though this is the first time they have publicly admitted to helping Déby militarily.

Despite the apparent retreat of the rebels, the situation remained tense. Government television and radio remained off the air, and mobile telephone networks that were taken offline to hamper rebel communication were still off Tuesday.

A group of foreign journalists from The Associated Press, the French television channel France 2 and The New York Times that arrived in Chad on a chartered flight Monday afternoon was detained at the airport by Chadian authorities and not permitted to enter the city. By 3:30 p.m. local time Tuesday they had not been released.