Conflict Stirs Up Confusion On Border of Chad, Sudan

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 28, 2006

KOUKOU ANGARANA, Chad -- In this desolate, sand-blown desert region of Chad near the Sudanese border, civilians are caught in a conflict so confusing that they -- and even the combatants -- have trouble telling who is fighting whom.

Or exactly why.

Chadian government troops are posted at key points along the border to halt what they say is a revolt by rebels based in Sudan. The soldiers wear red armbands to set them apart from the rebels, who wear similar uniforms and have an equally aggressive driving style, roaring through villages in pickup trucks, leaving behind clouds of billowing dust.

The insurgents, who are fighting to topple Chadian President Idriss Deby, represent at least 12 groups united under several coalitions. To make matters even more dizzying, some of them are Deby's estranged relatives, including a set of twin nephews.

Chad blames the Sudanese, saying they back the insurrection, an allegation that Sudan denies. An African Union investigation found this week that many of the captured attackers who invaded the capital April 13 had Sudanese and Central African Republic identification and said they were conscripted to fight by Sudan, which Sudan denies.

Sudan blames the Chadians, saying they support a different group of rebels in the Darfur region of western Sudan, some of whom have offices and villas in Chad's capital, N'Djamena.

And Chadians tend to blame France, Chad's former colonial power, which they accuse of being involved in the violence by backing the president.

Here in the inhospitable, rugged and lunar-like terrain of eastern Chad, where refugees huddle under thorn trees, two things are certain: The chaos in Darfur has extended deep into Chad, and a rapidly increasing number of civilians continue to suffer in one of Africa's most complex crises.

Across Africa, conflicts tend to spill across national borders and destabilize entire regions. Fighting in the central African country of Congo, for example, has flared off and on for about a decade, at times drawing in more than a dozen rebel groups backed by several neighboring countries.

Rebels in northern Uganda have been backed by Sudan as payback for Uganda's support of rebels in southern Sudan who were fighting the Sudanese government. The war in the 1990s in Sierra Leone spread into Liberia and Ivory Coast.

"For me, Darfur has become like West Africa and eastern Congo, where the war is exported and the region is inflamed and flowing over borders," said Olivier Bercault, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who was visiting N'Djamena this week. "It's just very sad for the civilians caught up in it all."

About two weeks ago, rebels drove across the vast desert toward N'Djamena. A French warplane fired warning shots at the rebels on April 13 as they marched into the city, where government troops thwarted the coup attempt. By the end of the day, more than 350 people were dead.

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