UPDATE: Al Jazeera and BBC reported yesterday that, according to "French military sources," Chadian government forces have defeated the Sudan-backed rebels and forced their retreat back East toward the Sudan border. Chadian ministers also announced yesterday that army troops had won decisive victories against the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) rebels, who had entered Chad from neighboring Sudan’s Darfur region, last Tuesday.
In related news, Chadian President Idriss Déby announced over the weekend that “Chad lacks confidence in the African Union’s ability to resolve the crisis with Sudan,” and that his government may opt to “hand over” resolution of the crisis to the United Nations. The Associated Press noted that this is the first time an African leader has questioned the authority of the African Union since it was established in 2002.
See this Enough Said entry, originally posted on Saturday, for more analysis of last week’s events in the latest round of the Chad-Sudan proxy war:
By Maggie Fick, Omer Ismail and Rebecca Brocato
The Chad-Sudan proxy war has reignited, but it’s too soon to tell the final scores of the latest round of this tit-for-tat conflict. On Tuesday—mere hours after representatives from the Chadian and Sudanese government made nice in Doha, Qatar on a deal to cease violence against each other and (once again) patch up shaky diplomatic ties—Chad accused its nasty neighbor Sudan of sending armed rebels into the east of its country. (Although the rainy season in this neck of the Sahel is fast approaching, nary a so-called “rebellion season” passes without a rebel attempt on Chad’s capital and this season turns out to be no exception).
After a Wednesday of accusations slung back and forth between N’djamena and Khartoum, the Chadian military claimed that it had successfully beaten a rebel offensive, but we’re still hearing reports of several columns of rebels moving westward undeterred, coming from different points in Darfur and from another neighbor, the Central African Republic.
As rumors swirled early in the week on the numbers of rebel vehicles blazing across the desert, French Foreign Minister Eric Chevallier said that France was not planning to defend the Chadian government militarily. “There is not such a mutual defense agreement,” he said. The French have recently adopted a certain je ne sais quoi attitude toward Chad—likely rooted in annoyance with the Déby regime over the stalled European Union peace process and the royal mishap of the World Bank-backed Chad-Cameroon pipeline, among other issues—but the bottom line is that Chad still serves France’s (primarily military and strategic) interests on the African continent. It will take more than a few annoyances to upset the status quo of firm French backing for President Déby, and another argument in this favor comes in the form of a question that must be circulating at Elysée: if not Déby, then who?
Thursday brought the news of intense ground fighting, which (as we noted here) the State Department immediately condemned. Chad’s interim defense minister Adoum Younousmi pronounced that the military had “managed to put a stop to the wanderings of the mercenaries,” with 125 rebels dead in a battle in the town of Am-Dam, roughly 65 miles inside Chad’s border with Sudan.
The latest chapter in this ongoing proxy war appears to have had precisely the opposite effect than the one likely intended by Khartoum when it gave the Chadian rebels camped out in Darfur the green light to enter Chad on Monday. As the Economist noted this week, despite all of his post-arrest warrant posturing, President Bashir is finding things to be “less simple, less predictable and less easy” in the wake of the International Criminal Court’s historic action against him in March. One answer to the “Why unleash your proxy rebels now, you just signed an agreement in Doha?” question is that with a great deal of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure pushing down on him, President Bashir opted to take the gamble of adding fuel to the fire of Chad’s internal crisis and aim for a military victory in his favor in order to show his strength.
How did Khartoum’s plan go awry? The details aren’t clear yet, but Déby’s army and his allies from the Justice and Equality Movement clearly have the upper hand. Moreover, Khartoum’s latest move is yet another example of overreach. Instead of pursuing a constructive, peaceful path (standing by the commitment signed with Chad on Monday in Doha), Sudan opted to aggressively escalate the conflict and create yet another crisis for the international community to sort out as a distraction to the central issue vis-à-vis Khartoum: a comprehensive peace for Sudan. In other words, this move is classic Khartoum, and it should be viewed by the international community as yet another sign that Sudan is not serious about peace in any sense of the word—not in Darfur, not throughout its own country, and certainly not next door in Chad.
Another indicator that Chad may come out on top in the latest round of the proxy war is that—unlike the three most recent Chadian rebel attempts on the capital—few Chadian military soldiers have jumped ship and joined the rebels in their ride toward the capital. Why? Perhaps these soldiers (many of them young boys, incidentally) have greater confidence in President Déby’s ability to endure this potential coup attempt than previous episodes. It’s hard to argue with the kind of oil revenues Déby now wields thanks to the Chad-Cameroon pipeline (granted these profits are declining thanks to the financial crisis); using the revenues purportedly intended to benefit his people, Déby has managed to beef up his military, not to mention cut down trees and encircle his capital in a protective moat; “Fortress N’djamena, anyone?” It is quite reasonable that his soldiers would be reticent to join the other side, an oft quarreling band of rebel militias dependent on Khartoum for its survival.
All smug airs aside regarding this like-a-broken-record proxy war, we’re very glad to note that there have been no reports of direct attacks on civilians, Darfuri refugees, or internally displaced Chadians living inside or outside of eastern Chad’s many camps near the Sudan border.
Photo: Chadian rebels, courtesy of AP