Home | News    Thursday 20 April 2006

Chad rebel group vows more attacks to oust Deby

April 19, 2006 (PARIS) — Leaders of Chad’s main rebel group accused France of propping up the African country’s government and vowed more attacks if necessary to drive Chadian President Idriss Deby from power.

Tamara Acyl Ahmat

In an interview Wednesday, Paris-based representatives for the United Front for Democratic Change vowed to thwart elections scheduled May 3, alleging the results have already been rigged.

Raoul Laona Gong, external affairs director for the rebel group known by the French acronym FUCD, said it had "no choice but to take up arms again because it’s the only language (Deby) understands."

Both the rebels and Deby, who himself seized power by force in 1990, say intelligence from France was crucial in helping government troops quell a bloody rebel siege on the capital N’djamena last week. The government said at least 350 people died, while the rebel group says far fewer were killed, including only 20 of its own men.

"If not for the intervention of French troops, we would today be in a position to control the country," Gong said, claiming the group already controls 80% of the vast, arid African nation.

"France, which we had expected to take an intermediary role, decided to act against the freely expressed will of the people to (instead) support a dictatorship," Gong said.

Deby, in an interview published Wednesday, praised France for providing critical intelligence that allowed the African country to repel the rebel attack, and said his government was rearming.

"When the column of mercenaries arrived Thursday at dawn in N’djamena, it was expected. Our forces were there. The ambush was ready," Deby was quoted as saying in French daily Le Figaro.

He said a conflict in Chad could destabilize north central Africa and "would be more serious" than bloody conflicts in Congo and other countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

France’s Defense Ministry has said its forces had fired a warning shot toward rebels who carried out the siege on N’djamena on April 12. France then raised its 1,200-strong deployment in Chad by 150.

Tamara Acyl Ahmat, a FUCD leader and the daughter of a former Chadian foreign minister who died in 1989, criticized what she said was French President Jacques Chirac’s "personal support" for Deby.

"I don’t understand France’s role," said Ahmat, whose brother and uncle are in Chad with the main rebel group.

Chad no longer receives military hardware from France, but French troops are stationed in the country and Chadian officers continue to be trained by France. France, the colonial ruler of Chad until 1960, has supported Deby but also supported the president he toppled. France has a cooperation agreement with Chad but a special decision would be needed for French forces to enter combat.

Gong said the rebels’ only support comes from Chad’s people - not foreign governments or companies - but the U.S. ambassador to Chad has expressed concerns about reports alleging neighboring Sudan is backing the rebels. Deby has repeatedly accused Sudan of supporting the rebels, a charge Sudan denies.

The rebel group is headed by several former military leaders who turned on Deby. Gong said the FUCD wants Deby to give up power, paving the way for free elections. The group has no interest in running the country, he said.

Deby won Chad’s first multiparty presidential poll in 1996 and a subsequent 2001 election. Critics say neither vote was free and fair. Deby pushed for a national referendum last year to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. The amendment passed after an opposition boycott, and Deby is the main candidate in elections set for May 3.

The FUCD sent a letter to the French Foreign Ministry Tuesday seeking a meeting with top officials. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy refused to meet with the rebel group.

"It’s not expected that the minister will meet with representatives of movements that look to take power by force," ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said at a regular news briefing Wednesday.