Libya seeks return of dissident troops

Mark Huband in N’djamena

The Guardian, 10 December 1990

LIBYA’S Foreign Minister has arrived in Nigeria to demand the repatriation of 600 American- trained dissident Libyan soldiers who have arrived in the country from Chad in the past three days.

The United States yesterday admitted that it had given the soldiers military training in Chad aimed at destabilising the Gadafy regime.

Herman Cohen, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said in an interview with the BBC that American military advisers were involved in training the Libyans, whom he described as an “adjunct” to the Chadian army, for which the US provided arms and advisers.

The 600 dissident soldiers, who were among over 2,000 taken prisoner by Chad during its war with Libya between 1986 and 1988, but who renounced support for Colonel Gadafy on being captured, were flown to Nigeria by US military aircraft on Friday and Saturday.

Nigeria is believed to be embarrassed by its role as host to the dissidents. Foreign ministry officials initially denied any knowledge of the plan to fly them to Nigeria, which has good, relations with Col Gadafy. But diplomatic sources in the Chadian capital confirmed that Nigeria had always agreed to receive the evacuees.

The evacuation took place in response to the fall of the anti-Gadafy Chadian government of Hissene Habré last Saturday. His Libyan-backed usurper, Idriss Déby, agreed to allow the evacuation, which was carried out under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Mr Déby also last week allowed Libya to repatriate 400 prisoners of war who said they wanted to return to Tripoli. It is not clear what has happened to up to 1,000 other prisoners known to have been captured by Chad during the war.

Some of the dissident soldiers may go to the United States, diplomatic sources, said, but most are likely to be dispersed throughout West Africa. Mr Cohen said that they would no longer play any role in the destabilisation of Libya.

Among the evacuated soldiers was Colonel Abdoulgassim Khalifa Hafta, founder of the anti-Gadafy National Front for the Salvation of Libya. This organisation was based in the Chadian capital during the Habré regime. Since Mr Déby seized power, Libya has mounted a diplomatic offensive in Chad.



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