Chad's President Felix Malloum took refuge with French troops in the capital, Ndjamena, today as reports circulated that he had handed over power to the national police commander who is leading the fight against the rebellious premier, Hissen Habre.
French planes are being sent to the former colony in the African desert to fly out French residents after fighting that reportedly has cost several hundred lives. French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing announced flights today as well as a shift in the official French attitude toward the religiously divided country of 4.3 million persons.
At least one Frenchmen, a pilot employed by President Malloum, has been killed in the confrontation between the president's army and rebels led by the premier. Premier Habre is said to have the upper hand with the president's troops trapped in a dwindling area of the capital.
The 1,000-strong members of Habre's Army of the North were said to have pressed their advantage when a cease-fire broke down Wednesday night. Only the presence of French troops stopped the rebels from a takeover of the white residential areas.
Large numbers of the 4,000 Europeans in Chad are said to have taken refuge at the airport, where they are being protected by contingents of the 2,000 French Legionnaires and Marines supporting the Chad army. Malloum also was at the airport.
The Chad army is said to have been routed. It suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the main guerrilla army, the Libyan-backed Frolinat, last year.
This new failure of Malloum's forces is undoubtedly behind a change in the French attitude to Chad, which Giscard announced at his press conference. France now favors a meeting of all factions to "restructure" Chad, with a possible federal constitution, he said.
This could leave the northern Moslems of Frolinat in charge of about two-thirds of the country. Habre's Moslem forces would be dominant in much of the east and the southern Christians of President Malloum would control the south. It would mean the end of 20 years of French military and political support for a strong Christian-dominated central government.
Giscard said French troops had been told not to intervene in the fighting because it was a domestic affair. France justified using troops against Frolinat last year by saying the movement was backed by Libya.
Giscard also said he would meet President Jaafar Nimeri of Sudan, chairman of the Organization of African Unity, who has offered to mediate.This meeting would plan an eventual discussion among the OAU, the Arab League and the European Economic Community.