Chad rebels ‘kill Habré as he flees’

Mark Huband in Douala, Cameroon, Paul Webster in Paris, and agencies

The Guardian, 3 December 1990

CHAD’S victorious rebels were settling into power early today after a lightning offensive which toppled President Hissene Habré’s eight-year-old government in just three weeks.

Amid cheering crowds, the rebel general, Idriss Déby, rode into the undefended capital, N’Djamena, in a black Mercedes and pledged a return to multi-party politics. “The MPS (Popular Salvation Movement) will see to it that Chad becomes a democratic country,” he told French radio. “I’m going to bring changes. We will take our responsibilities. ”

Asked if he would accept a multi-party system in the impoverished central African country for the first time since 1962, he replied: “Absolutely.”

President Habré’s fate was unclear. Libya, his sworn enemy, said he was killed as he tried to flee. But sources in N’Djamena and France said he had gone to ground in neighbouring Cameroun after slipping out of the capital on Friday night with his family and senior colleagues.

“If Idriss Déby wants to take power, let him have it,” Habré, 48, was said to have told aides in a final meeting.

Witnesses said French troops stepped into the power vacuum to halt widespread looting as news of his departure spread. Cars and offices were burnt and the presidential palace sacked.

Jean Alingue Bawoyeu, parliamentary speaker and sole remaining government representative in the capital, became acting head of state.

The toppled president was refused assistance by his ally France, and his 30,000-strong army swiftly collapsed after a week fighting about 2,000 rebel troops who invaded from bases in Sudan and made a lightning march on the capital, inflicting a rapid series of defeats on government forces.

Thousands of government soldiers changed sides as morale collapsed.

Mr Déby, President Habré’s former security adviser, blamed Mr Habré for the death of two of his cousins. His rapid advance on the capital was helped by the neutral position taken by French troops in the eastern city of Abeche, 750 miles from here. The 500-strong French garrison guarding the city’s strategically important air base had orders not to try to halt the rebel advance.

Despite appeals to President François Mitterrand, they were ordered not to intervene to stop the rout of the Chad army, although extra troops were flown in to protect French interests. Paratroopers were flown in to bring up French strength to about 1,800.

Chad’s ambassador in Paris, Ahmed Alami, said: “Habré left because he did not want any bloodshed in N’djamena.”

Panic was reported throughout the city as people fled across the nearby border into Cameroon. Government offices were sacked and burned.

“If Idriss Déby wants to take power, let him have it,” witnesses quoted Mr Habré as telling his closest aides in a final meeting before he abandoned his government, according to sources here, and slipped away in the dead of night.

As the situation threatened to get out of control in an orgy of looting, French troops were called in to restore order. French Foreign Legionnaires were running the capital when the rebels entered it.

Mr Déby invaded Chad on November 10. His heavily armed Popular Salvation Movement (MPS) took the town of Tine and then captured the large desert town of Abeche on Friday.

France gave President Habré military assistance in 1984 in his fight against Libya’s annexation of the northern Aouzou strip bordering the two countries. French support for the Habré government was, however, lukewarm even during the Aouzou war.

Mr Déby, believed to have been given arms by Libya, attempted similar attacks from Sudan in November, 1989 and in March this year.

Despite denials from Tripoli, both the Habré government and the United States accused the Libyans of backing Mr Déby’s army.

France’s decision to desert the Chad leader, forcing him to flee, is the starkest sign of the deliberate withdrawal of French influence from areas of west and central Africa.



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