Rebel leader Goukouni Oueddei, ending a month-long public silence that sparked rumors he was dead, told Western reporters Saturday he was prepared to fight French troops to regain control of his country.
Ex-president Goukouni, who was last seen in public on July 30, met with an Associated Press reporter and seven others brought in through Libya to the rebel headquarters in this desert oasis near the Libyan border.
"If the French want to stop us, we will be forced to fight," he said in French. "If the French attack us, we will also be forced to fight and will call for help. We do not intend to accept partition and limit ourselves" to northern Chad, he said. "We will go to Baibokoum" in the far south.
France sent 3,000 soldiers to Chad beginning Aug. 11 and they have established a defense line 300 miles south of Goukouni's forces.
France intervened in Chad's civil war after receiving reports that 3,000 Libyans and aircraft were aiding Goukouni's rebel army. There was little military presence in Bardai, and no sign of Libyan troops.
The ex-president charged that two French Jaguar jet fighters bombed Oum Chalouba on Friday--a charge France has denied. Oum Chalouba is about 100 miles north of the northernmost French outpost at Araba. The bombing means "war has started between us and the French," said Goukouni. He said there will be no peace negotiations until France withdraws.
He also said French President Francois Mitterrand's proposal for a "federation" of all Chadian factions to end the fighting "provokes an even greater aggravation of the situation" than the sending of French troops.