Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi today rejected a suggestion by Chadian President Hissene Habre that their two governments negotiate a solution to the war in Chad.
"It's a Chadian war, and Habre must negotiate with Chadian rebel leader Goukouni Oueddei," Qaddafi said in a press conference at the close of an official two-day visit to Tunisia.
"But, if the two sides ask our assistance in solving the conflict, we are ready to help," Qaddafi said.
Qaddafi confirmed that Libya and France have maintained diplomatic contacts during the crisis, in which the French have sent more than 1,000 troops to assist the government of Chad and western observers repeatedly have said that Libyan troops are present in Chad in large numbers.
The Libyan leader, however, refused to say whether his country and France have discussed a joint approach to solving the Chadian war.
Qaddafi repeated his government's position on the Chad issue, saying the American role in supporting the Habre government was part of an "imperialist threat" against Libya.
He said that there was "no excuse" for the U.S. role in Chad and that it reflected an American pattern of using small countries as pawns in an attempt to dominate international politics.
Qaddafi was much less critical of the French intervention, although some of the French troops have been assigned to the Chadian government's forward defensive positions.
"The French presence in Chad does not contribute to a resolution of the conflict," he said.
In statements by officials and in its government press, Libya consistently has used a more conciliatory tone toward the French role than the American involvement in Chad.
"The Libyans don't want to burn their diplomatic bridges with Paris," an Arab political observer in Tunis said.
"They want to leave room for a negotiated settlement, though they are not making clear on what basis they are talking to the French," the observer said.
The official Libyan news agency JANA has suggested that French troops now in Chad are intended to overthrow Habre, to replace him with what the agency called "new faces" who might negotiate with the Libyan-backed rebels of Goukouni.
France rejected the report, but observers in Tunis called it a signal of how the Libyans might like to resolve the conflict, short of a confrontation involving French troops.
Qaddafi said the Chadian government had lost its credibility and given up its independence by allowing western nations a role in its civil war.
He called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Chad and said there were no Libyan forces in Chad. "But if there were, they would have to get out," he said.
Qaddafi and Tunisian leaders held two days of talks here, at the seaside hometown of Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba.
In a joint communique, the two sides expressed their "profound concern over the current conflict in Chad." The communique called for "a national reconciliation and the establishment of security and peace . . . excluding all foreign intervention, and conforming to the recommendations of the bureau of the Organization of African Unity."
The OAU has called for a cease-fire and negotiations between the two sides.
Observers said the communique had been carefully drafted to avoid displaying differences between the two sides on the Chad issue, as well as others.
"The Tunisians disapprove profoundly of the Libyan role in Chad, but they've been very discreet about it," one diplomat in Tunis said.
"But for Qaddafi, this visit was not so much to gather Tunisian support for his actions in Chad. Qaddafi knows he won't get the Tunisians to agree with him on Chad," the diplomat said.
Observers agreed that Qaddafi's main objective in his visit here was to demonstrate that he is not isolated from his neighbors.
"From Qaddafi's point of view, the visit was a success," aaid one Arab observer. Libya's relations with the other countries of northwest Africa have been strained in recent years.
Diplomats and other analysts in the northwest African capitals agree that Libya has become increasingly isolated from its nighbors, following a rapprochement earlier this year among Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.
The Associated Press also reported the following about an interview Qaddafi gave to French television. He spoke in Arabic, and his remarks were translated into French by the television and into English by AP.
"I do not see any legal justification for the French forces to fight against the troops" of Goukouni. Libya, which backs Goukouni, is "anxious to find a peaceful solution that would assure stability in Chad and it extends its hand to all initiatives aimed in this direction," he said.
"We are not talking about French instructors now but of a military presence in the full sense of the word, and it is to be feared that these troops will become involved in a war between Chadians, which could lead to a catastrophe. The best solution would be to leave Chad to the Chadians so that they can find a solution to the conflict.
"I think that France has gotten involved in the conflict in spite of itself by the United States."
He said Libya was ready to cooperate in any effort to restore peace in Chad but "unfortunately there is not ethnic harmony in Chad, and the cleavages prevent there being a durable stability."