Tripoli protests as US flies out Libyan ‘Contras’

Mark Huband in Ndjamena

The Observer, 9 December 1990

DISSIDENT Libyan soldiers in Chad were yesterday flown from the now pro-Gadaffi country by the United States military, accused of training them Contra-style to attack the Libyan regime.

The soldiers, taken prisoner during Chad’s war with Libya in the early 1980s, renounced their support for Gadaffi. United States officials have refused to deny the anti-Gadaffi troops were trained by American military advisers to undermine Gadaffi on their return to Libya.

Last week Chad’s new Libyan-backed ruler, Idriss Deby, released 400 prisoners who wished to return to Libya. But at least 400 others told United States officials in Chad they wanted asylum elsewhere.

Presidehl Deby said yesterday that he wants good relations with neighbouring countries, such as Libya, as well as the United States.

Initially the US described the evacuation aboard American military transport planes, as a , ‘humanitarian gesture’ overseen by the Red Cross. However, American sources admitted yesterday that disclosure of anti-Gadaffi training camp in Chad is ‘a diplomatic embarrassment’.

At his first press conference since seizing power a week ago, the new Chadian president said: ‘We found there was a camp where there were Libyan opposition under arms and we took the decision to give the choice to that opposition to put down their arms and stay as refugees or leave.’

US officials in Ndjamena said yesterday they believed the Libyans wished to leave because of Deby’s dose relationship with Gadaffi. The US provided the deposed Chadian regime of Hissene Habre with small arms and ammunition as part of what diplomatic sources describe as an ‘ongoing military relationship’ with the old regime.

Chad became a base for Libyan dissidents under Habre, even though diplomatic relations were restored in 1986. Libya’s former ambassador to India established an organisation of Libyan dissidents in Ndjamena.

A top-level Libyan delegation arrived in Ndjamena on Tuesday. It was led by Colonel Massoud Abdel Hafiz, who diplomats believe provided Idriss Deby with Libyan weapons during preparations for the insurgency. The envoy tried to make Deby stop the American evacuation of the second batch of dissident soldiers, diplomats said yesterday, arid the Libyan embassy has sent an official protest note to the Chadian government. .

The anti-Gaddafi soldiers were kept reportedly kept separate from other Libyan prisoners at a camp known as ‘Enic’ close to the centre of the capital. It was guarded by Chadian soldiers until last weekend when the government army fled on the arrival of Deby’s rebel forces in the city.

Diplomatic sources said up to 200 of the dissident soldiers were flown to Nigeria on Tuesday. The remaining 230 were flown out yesterday. Nigerian government officials denied any role in the evacuation.

Libya yesterday called for a United Nations Security Council debate on the issue of what is described as ‘American piracy’.



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