France today turned aside an apparent Libyan overture for a peaceful settlement of the civil war in Chad that would include Paris ceasing to support the government of Chadian President Hissene Habre.
The official Libyan news agency JANA said yesterday that the arrival of French paratroopers in Ndjamena this week was intended to encourage Habre's resignation and to replace his government with "new faces." It said "initiatives for the restoration of peace" in the landlocked African country were now under way and France had "a primary role to play" in reaching a peace agreement.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman brushed aside the news agency's comments and reiterated support for "the legitimate government" of President Habre.
The JANA dispatch was interpreted here as a gambit by Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi to open peace talks and resolve 19 years of civil war in Chad now that rebels loyal to ex-president Goukouni Oueddei and their Libyan allies have captured the northern part of the country.
French government officials said that they did not wish to discourage peace initiatives through diplomatic channels but that it was necessary to uphold the principle of territorial integrity in Africa by voicing support for Habre and thus extending reassurances to other friendly leaders.
"France has contacts with Libya as with other African states," said a Foreign Ministry official. "We obviously favor a political solution that would end the war, but we have not undertaken any special diplomatic initiatives." He added that despite the presence in Chad of "as many as 11 factions that claim separate leaders," France perceives no conciliatory figure who could tame the blood feud between Goukouni and Habre, two rival warlords whose armies have shot their way in and out of power for years.
Chad's charge d'affaires in Paris, Ahmed Allam-Mi, said the Libyan report was designed "to sow confusion and discord" among the United States, France and Chad.
"Qaddafi is trying to consolidate politically what he has achieved, at least temporarily, on the battlefield," Allam-Mi said. "But any attempt to impose on Chad a solution from the outside is bound to fail, as it always has in the past."
Officials of the French Foreign and Defense ministries said they do not believe Qaddafi is willing to risk a confrontation with about 300 French paratroopers now in Ndjamena to handle training and communications tasks for Habre's embattled Army.
Libyan and rebel troops are now reported to be receiving reinforcements, restocking ammunition and repairing the bombed airport at the northern oasis of Faya Largeau that they seized after a six-hour battle. Despite such preparations for further battle, French officials said, Qaddafi realizes that any assault on the capital 500 miles to the south could provoke intervention by 6,500 crack French troops standing by in neighboring countries.
In addition, said an official, 20 French jet bombers are poised at West African bases in "a high state of alert" to be deployed the moment that President Francois Mitterrand decides to send them. France has so far refused to commit fighter aircraft and combat troops to Chad despite Habre's urgent appeals in the last month.
Mitterrand won power on a platform that included a vow to cease France's pursuit of "blood and treasure" in its traditional role as Africa's gendarme.
French officials say they find both Goukouni and Habre to be obsessed with their armed rivalry rather than with the welfare of their suffering people. Habre denounced French refusal to send combat troops and jet bombers and accused several French specialists on Africa of being pro-Libyan. He scorned presidential adviser Guy Penne as "that poor idiot."
Mitterrand, like his predecessors, has tried to cultivate relations with Libya, which not only sells oil to France but has also become of its best customers for such costly arms purchases as Mirage fighters.
The French government, unconvinced that Qaddafi acts as a surrogate to advance Soviet strategic goals in Africa, has tried to divert him from Moscow's influence during his 14 years in power.
In a television interview, French presidential spokesman Max Gallo referred to France's need to maintain good contacts with all African states in order to curtail the continent's "stake in superpower conflicts."
French officials say they hope that if Qaddafi halts his military ventures into Africa by securing the northern part of Chad, some kind of compromise might be worked out through diplomatic channels. Athough they refuse to say so publicly, some officials have indicated a belief that Qaddafi's desire to bring nomadic Moslems in northern Chad under his control is credible if he disavows any aim of seizing the more populous, Christian south--where the capital is located.