French may intervene in Togo crisis



Mark Huband in Abidjan and agencies in Lomé

The Guardian, 30 November 1991

Togo’s crisis intensified last night after more troops voiced support for mutinous forces in the capital, Lomé, and France dispatched 300 soldiers to neighbouring Benin who will be sent on to Togo to protect foreign nationals.

Soldiers from Togo’s 4th airborne infantry regiment in the northern towns of Kara and Dapaong said on state radio yesterday that they “unreservedly endorse the action of [their] comrades from Lomé and are prepared to assist them if the need arises.”

Both towns are Kabye tribal strongholds of President Gnassingbe Eyadema. The rebellious soldiers want him to become effective leader once more, having been stripped of all but ceremonial powers by a national political conference in August.

Three hundred French troops based in the Central African Republic and Chad arrived yesterday in the Beninois capital, Cotonou, and were expected to be sent to Lomé within hours. A French foreign ministry spokesman insisted that the action was intended only to protect 3,000 French nationals living in Togo. But he hinted that France did want to defend the process of democratisation.

The rebellious troops in Lomé issued a series of ultimatums yesterday morning to the besieged prime minister, Kokou Koffigoh, and his transitional government, giving them 48 hours to surrender power. But the prime minister was still in his official residence last night. Some members of the government had gone into hiding, sources in Lomé said.

General Eyadema met the mutinous troops early yesterday, but the result of the meeting was not disclosed. Western military sources say that tanks surround the prime minister’s residence. These include eight Scorpion tanks bought from Britain on September 2 as the final part of an order for 20 tanks made two years ago by Gen Eyadema’s military dictatorship. The Togolese army also has up to 40 French and Brazilian tanks, which are reported to be stationed throughout Lomé.

Sources in radio contact with Lomé – telephone links have been cut – say tension in the city has reached fever pitch, though there were no shooting incidents reported yesterday. Soldiers are stationed at strategic points, though the army is divided over whom to support.

Military sources say that the overall army commander, Brigadier-General Bassibe Bonfoh, has pledged his support to the prime minister, while the 400-strong Rapid Intervention Force is spearheading the attempt to put Gen Eyadema back in power.

Gen Bonfoh, who was appointed a year ago by Gen Eyadema, contacted Mr Kotligoh yesterday to reaffirm his support for the reformist government. Divisions in the army reflect the tribal split between Gen Eyadema’s Kabye tribe and the Ewe tribe, which dominates in the south.

Civilians used the lull in the fighting to flee the country yesterday, and hundreds of Togolese and Ghanaians stormed across the border into Ghana as soon as the dusk-to-dawn curfew was over.

Togolese troops re-erected the barbed wire fence along the Ghanaian border yesterday. The two countries have had strained relations for years, and the Ghanaian government issued strong statements of support for the Koffigoh government after its appointment.


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