Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeri says he has withdrawn his support for a rebel force that is the center of controversy and international intrigue in strife-torn Chad.
The rebel force, headed by a colorful and radical figure named Hissene Habre, has operated in eastern Chad near the Sudanese border since being driven out of the capital city of Ndjamena by Libyan troops last December. In recent months, Habre has been reliably reported to be armed and backed by Sudan and Egypt. According to many reports, the United States also supplied covert assistance.
Nimeri, in an interview with The Washington Post, said, "We tried by all means to stop Habre" after Libyan forces began withdrawing from Chad this month. Nimeri, who described the Libyan pullout as "a tactical withdrawal, not a strategic withdrawal," appeared to be concerned that continued guerrilla war would halt the pullout and eventually bring the Libyans back.
According to Nimeri, the rebel leader sent him word that he would stop fighting for one week only. Nimeri said he has informed Habre through intermediaries that "it is better to stop for two or three or four months" as a contribution to stability while an all-African police force replaces the departing Libyans.
U.S. government officials have responded with a uniform and snappy "no comment" when asked if Washington is supplying any help to Habre. Since Nov. 16 State Department spokesman Dean Fischer has repeatedly said that "as a matter of principle" the government will not answer that question.
The Economist of London, reporting from Chad in its current issue, stated that in his guerrilla war against Libya and its Chadian allies, Habre "established bases in Sudan, got arms from Egypt and money from America." Senior U.S. officials refused to confirm or deny this report of American involvement, on or off the record.
"FAN," the armed force of Habre, who is a former defense minister, is one of four Chadian armed bands that have struggled for power inside that country for several years.
The others are "FAP," the army of Goukouni Oueddei, who is president of the recognized "transition" government; "FAT," the forces of the vice president, Abdel Kader Kamogue; and "CDR," the troops of Acyl Ahmed, currently foreign minister.
Each of the private armies has several thousand men, who are often fighting among themselves. "Today there is not one Chad, nor even two, but at least four, with each fragment holding the promise of splitting into smaller entities," Prof. Rene Lemarchand of the University of Florida, one of the few U.S. experts on Chad, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Oct. 29.
U.S. analysts are yet to be convinced that any real leader can emerge from the Chadian factional strife, and they fear that the continuing war and instability will provide a constant temptation for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. There are reports, which Washington sources were unable to verify, that Libyan troops have left behind weapons and equipment for their friends among the Chadian factions, especially Foreign Minister Acyl.
The Reagan administration has decided to speed $10 million to $12 million in airlift, equipment and food to an all-African peacekeeping force to take over from the Libyans in Chad, but the United States has few sources of reliable information on what is happening there. American diplomats were pulled out of Chad in March, 1980. An American diplomat stationed in Kousseri, a border town in nearby Cameroon, makes daytime forays into Chad to look around.
Nimeri said his information is that Libyan forces, while pulling out of the Chadian capital and many other areas, have stopped in the Aozou strip, which has been under Libyan occupation since 1972. The reason, said the Sudanese president, is that 2,100 Libyans have been killed in the occupation of Chad, and nobody has figured out how to break the news to their families.