Fight broke out on Monday (12 February) in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, between forces loyal to the President, Felix Malloum, and rival groups who regard the Prime Minister, Hissene Habre, as their leader.
Fight broke out on Monday (12 February) in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, between forces loyal to the President, Felix Malloum, and rival groups who regard the Prime Minister, Hissene Habre, as their leader. Reports from Chad on Monday night, before communications broke down, indicated that the President's forces had beaten off an attempted coup; but later news reaching Paris suggested that Monsieur Habre's forces were in control of half the city after 24 hours of fighting.
SYNOPSIS: N'Djamena is much the biggest city in a large, sparsely populated country, with the inhabitants concentrated in the south. The northern areas are mostly desert, and the people Moslem nomads. Until two years ago, Hissene Habre, himself a Moslem, was a guerrilla leader in the northern liberation movement, FROLINAT. Then, after he had been ousted from his command in the north, President Felix Malloum brought him into the central government last August, and appointed him Prime Minister. President Malloum is a southern, Christian, who came to power after a coup in 1975, and pursued a policy of reconciliation between north and south. This appears to have totally broken down.
There was fierce fighting in the first half of last year, and President Malloum called French troops to his aid after FROLINAT guerrillas had advanced to within 250 kilometres (150 miles) of N'Djamena. This time, the President's forces are using helicopters and warplanes to shell Monsieur Habre's forces inside the capital itself. The French sent paratroops into action in last year's fighting. But since then, their troops have been manning a demarcation line between northern and southern Chad, and there have been no serious clashes until now.
Monsieur Habre's forces are men he brought with him from his former command in the FROLINAT guerrillas. They are put at about 1,000 strong, and are said to be well-equipped. They were not integrated into the Chad regular army when Monsieur Habre joined the government. Now they and the President's forces are locked in combat.
There are some 3,000 French soldiers and airmen in Chad at present, but they have not apparently been given any orders to intervene in the fighting. Their role has been limited to protecting the foreign nationals in M'Djamena, including about 2,000 French citizens. French commandos in motor vehicles are patrolling the streets of the European quarter, and observation planes and helicopters are flying overhead. The heaviest fighting was said to be in the part of the city where the Moslem community lives.