Thursday, 11 January 2007

France wages war in Chad – away from the glare of the media

While US jets pound villages in Somalia, away from the glare of the international media, French aircraft are attacking towns in Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic bordering Sudan’s Darfur region.

Even in France, the war has gone largely unnoticed. The headline in the current Politis, the radical left weekly, is blunt: La France en guerre (France at war). But elsewhere the mainstream media (Le Monde, Libération, Figaro and the television channels) are silent on the conflict.

The French Mirage F1 jets are intervening in support of two beleaguered dictators. Idriss Déby, of Chad, was installed by a French-led coup in 1990. His predecessor, Hissène Habré, is now to be tried in Senegal for crimes against humanity during his rule from 1982 to 1990. Déby’s rule has proven equally oppressive – but while rebels increase their hold over large parts of the impoverished country and threaten the capital N’Djamena, the French government of Dominique de Villepin remains loyal to Déby. Chad, after all, is strategically crucial lying just south of Libya and to the west of Sudan while its oil reserves are likely to become increasingly important in the US-led “war on terror”.

In the Central African Republic, French operations are aimed at repelling rebels which the government of François Bozizé claims are backed by the Sudanese. But the rebels of the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (UFDR) deny any links with Sudan and claim Bozizé, whom the French helped into power in a 2003 coup, is ruling the country along ethnic lines.

The French backed Bozizé on the understanding he would introduce reforms – but while these have never been introduced the support continues. In the Politis article, Dante Sanjurjo highlights the way in which the war is being waged without any debate in either parliament or the media. Roland Marchal, an African specialist at the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (Ceri), claims that French society reacts more to humanitarian than political crises. “Why do the French need to intervene like this? And what will it achieve? No one asks these questions.”