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What's behind Chad crisis
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Thousands of civilians fled Chad's capital N'Djamena on Monday after armed rebels pulled back from the city, following two days of fierce fighting in an attempt to overthrow President Idriss Deby.

The heavy fighting broke out last Friday near N'Djamena between government security forces and some 2,000 armed rebels.

The death toll from the violence is still unknown, but some relief groups estimate that more than 50 people were injured, mostly civilians hit by stray bullets. Witnesses described the scenes as "bloody and chaotic" with bodies littering the streets and looting reported in many shops.

In recent years, the Chadian government has managed to repel offensives when the capital N'Djamena was besieged by rebels.

But this time, the rebels succeeded in driving straight in and capturing large parts of the capital. Analysts believe the readjusted stance of France, the former colonial power in Chad, may be one of the major reasons for the dramatic change.

They also point to a realignment of the various forces in the Central African region and of the many international factors that have been involved in the region.

It doesn't seem a mere coincidence that the rebel attacks came ahead of the planned EU deployment of a 2,500-strong peacekeeping force in February in both Chad and neighboring Central African Republic.

The rebels rushed to take action for fear that the peacekeeping force, composed mostly of French troops, would make their attempt to seize power even more difficult, given the fact that France has been a strong supporter of Deby since he came to power.

It is noteworthy, however, that France's low-key stance this time was a striking contrast to its de-facto intervention in 2006,when it offered help in transportation and intelligence, or even the direct reinforcement of presidential guards with French soldiers.

So far, France has confined its operation to protecting French citizens residing in Chad, offering no substantial assistance to the government troops. French Defense Minister Herve Morin said France maintained a "neutral" military position in the conflict in Chad and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said "we will support the party in power, support legality."

Observers believe the Sarkozy government wants to turn French military presence in Africa into peacekeeping missions under the mandate of the United Nations or African Union, rather than involving itself in the internal conflicts of any given countries. This indicated France's readjusted overall strategy and foreign policies, they said.

"If they were to intervene, the neutrality of the European intervention in Chad is over and it would blow France's policy on European defense," said Roland Marchal, a Chad expert and researcher with the French Center for International Studies and Research.

Analysts believe that though President Deby has lost control of the entire country, African countries and the rest of the international community cannot afford to ignore the forces he represented and stand idle when crisis continues in Chad.

The recently-ended AU summit strongly condemned the rebels' attempt to seize power by force and categorically refused to recognize any undemocratic change of power in Chad.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called for an immediate end to the fighting in Chad, urging all parties to immediately cease hostilities and engage in dialogue so as to prevent further bloodshed.

He also reiterated the UN's long-standing condemnation of the use of military means to try to seize power.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council began an emergency session late Sunday afternoon to discuss the situation in Chad.

Chad, a French colony until 1960, has been convulsed by civil wars and invasions since its independence, and the recent discovery of rich oil deposits has only intensified the struggle for power in the largely desert country.

The most recent series of rebellions began in 2005 in the eastern part of the country and one Chadian rebel group launched a failed assault on N'Djamena in April 2006.

(Xinhua News Agency February 5, 2008)

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