Chadian President Hissene Habre declared today that he had no interest in negotiating a peaceful settlement with the Libyan-backed rebel forces of ex-president Goukouni Oueddei, and he denied suggestions that he was under French pressure to do so.
Speaking at a press conference, Habre said he was willing to negotiate directly with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi "to discuss the withdrawal of the Libyan invading force," but only if Libya agreed to abandon the Aouzou Strip in northern Chad and recognize his government. Libya annexed the Aouzou Strip in 1972 and insists that Goukouni, ousted as president of Chad 14 months ago, is the country's legitimate ruler.
Habre's remarks came after news services reported that a representative of French President Francois Mitterrand had gone to Tripoli for a meeting with Qaddafi. According to the reports, Roland Dumas, a Paris lawyer who is a friend of Mitterrand's, met with the Libyan leader.
Amid the reports of French and Chadian diplomatic activity, a senior Reagan administration official said yesterday that the United States "would encourage discussions among the parties involved," according to Reuter news agency.
Habre had met here with Mitterrand's adviser on African affairs, Guy Penne. But when asked by reporters whether he was "under French pressure" to negotiate with Goukouni, he responded, "It is not true. There is no pressure from the French government on the Chadian government to accept any solution."
There had been news reports earlier this week that France would seek a solution to the current phase of Chad's 18-year-old civil war by pressuring Habre to accept a French-negotiated solution or by pushing him aside.
"The extent of French aid will depend on France and the French president," Habre said. His comments came amid reports from informed sources here that at least some of the French paratroops had moved since Monday to two new positions at Arada and Biltine, north of their forward positions at Salal and Abeche. Abeche, 400 miles east of here, sits on Chad's east-west highway to the capital. Biltine is 45 miles north of Abeche, Arada 35 miles farther up the road.
France's paratroops are the main force between Habre's government here in Ndjamena and Goukouni's rebels at their northern base in Faya Largeau, 625 miles to the northeast. Libya allegedly provides Goukouni's rebel forces with ground and air support.
After answering questions, Habre charged that Qaddafi and his major arms supplier, the Soviet Union, seek to weaken African countries such as Chad through political destabilization.
"Libya has always thwarted a solution to Chad's problems," said Habre. The Soviet Union, he implied, operates in Africa with the same objective.
Asked if he would accept a negotiated settlement involving all the warring factions and Libya, Habre said he always has been willing to find "a peaceful means" to end the war, but added that it is "the duty of Chadians to defend" their country. Today, Habre continued, "Libya occupies 50 percent of Chad."
Observers, however, characterize Libya and the rebels as being in effective occupation of only the northern third of Chad from their stronghold at Faya Largeau.
With the movement of French troops last weekend into positions blocking the only routes to the capital, the ground and air battles have stopped. Habre's army, only lightly equipped compared to Libya's forces, numbers fewer than 4,000 men. Besides the French paratroops, Habre's forces are bolstered by about 2,000 Zairian troops flown here on American military transport aircraft.