Darfur's Chaos Spreads

Thursday, February 7, 2008

N'DJAMENA, the capital of Chad, is hundreds of miles from Darfur. But the violence in Chad over the past few days is closely linked to the Sudanese government's bloody campaign to subdue Darfur. Some of Darfur's rebels enjoy sanctuary in eastern Chad as well as other support from the government of President Idriss Déby. Meanwhile, Chadian rebel groups are clients of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.

Their assault on N'djamena, which began Saturday, left civilians dead and sent thousands of refugees streaming into nearby Cameroon.

Widening the regional conflict by taking it to the streets of a neighboring country certainly serves Mr. Bashir's interests in punishing a regional enemy -- and diverting international attention from Darfur. The rebel strike happened as a U.N. peacekeeping force is struggling to get on the ground in Darfur; deployment of a French-led European Union force to protect refugees in eastern Chad, which Mr. Bashir opposes, was suspended as a result.

For the time being, it appears that Mr. Déby has quelled the attack with the help of France, which maintains 1,900 troops and a squadron of fighter planes in Chad. President Nicolas Sarkozy engineered a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting Mr. Déby and alluded to possible military intervention to save him. "If France must do its duty, it will do so," Mr. Sarkozy said. Paris's stance in this oil-rich former colony, however, is not a case study in foreign policy idealism. Mr. Déby is a dictator; one reason he is vulnerable to revolt is that he has governed in the narrow interests of his own ethnic group, the Zagawa. Among his recent initiatives was to renege on his promise to the World Bank to dedicate almost 90 percent of oil pipeline revenue to fighting poverty. Yet Mr. Déby also has enjoyed good relations with the Bush administration, which has trained and equipped members of his presidential guard to fight Islamist terrorists based in North Africa.

Given the Chadian rebels' links to Sudan, the United States and France probably have little choice but to help prevent them from seizing power in Chad. A rebel victory would bring on only more refugee outflows, an inevitable counterattack and a spiraling war that could engulf all of north-central Africa. There can be no blank check for Chad's ruler, however. Both Washington and Paris need to push him to end corruption and human rights abuses. The World Bank cut off funding to Chad after its grab for oil money; the flow of dollars was restored in return for new Chadian promises to aid the poor, and those must be kept. Human rights monitors report that members of the civilian opposition in N'djamena have been rounded up amid the fighting -- portending a possible repeat of the torture and executions that occurred during a 2006 rebel offensive. At a minimum, Mr. Déby must prevent that, if he wants to retain his deservedly tenuous hold on international sympathy.

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