Libya's Foreign Minister Abdul Salaam Treiki said here today that Libyan troops remain in Chad "for technical reasons" despite a withdrawal agreement with France and warned that Libya will intervene if the Chadian goverment attacks Libyan-backed rebels.
The foreign minister's statements came one week after a summit meeting between French President Francois Mitterrand and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi on the Mediterranean island of Crete, where it was said that "not a single French soldier, not a single Libyan soldier, should remain in Chad."
That summit was held in the presence of Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. Greece has tried since September to encourage the Franco-Libyan troop pullout in Chad.
In his press conference today, the Libyan foreign minister said that the French "understand well that because of geographical problems, there might be a delay for the complete withdrawal of our elements of support from Chad. It is for technical reasons, not for political reasons, and they are aware of this. We told them from the beginning."
Treiki spoke to foreign journalists at Athens airport, at the end of an overnight visit to the Greek capital for consultations with the Papandreou government.
He did not specify the number or the positions of the Libyan troops, but said that Libyan cooperation with the French continues and that Libya does intend to withdraw its troops.
Treiki said his government "knew" that U.S. pressure on France is strong. He appeared to be referring to U.S. State Department accusations, originally deflected by Paris but eventually confirmed by Mitterrand, that about 3,000 Libyan troops remained in Chad after the Nov. 10 withdrawal deadline.
The Libyan minister said that Libya "will not stay away from the matter" if Chadian government troops attempt to take positions held by Libyan-backed rebel leader Goukouni Oueddei.
Treiki also said Libya will not abandon the mineral-rich Aouzou strip, a 60-mile-wide stretch of mountainous desert in northern Chad, which was annexed by Libya in 1973.
"We have never discussed Aouzou with the French, and it is not for discussion with any country. Aouzou is our country, and part of Libya," he said. French officials in Paris agree that the Aouzou strip was not part of the withdrawal agreement.
According to Treiki, the Organization of African Unity, which has tried and failed in the past to bring the Chad government and rebel factions together, will undertake another initiative to reconcile warring elements in the Central African state.
"The next step now is to convene a meeting of the Chadian factions, to set up a government of national reconciliation, of course including Chadian President Hissene Habre," Treiki said.
A meeting of Chadian factions in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in early 1984, never got off the ground after Habre refused to attend because rebel leader Goukouni was given full presidential honors in the capital at Libya's request.
Treiki left Athens today on the heels of Greek deputy undersecretary of state, Karolos Papoulias, who was dispatched to Tripoli to serve as what a government spokesman called "an objective observer" of the implementation of the Franco-Libyan agreement.
Papoulias is scheduled to stay two to three days, a spokesman said, but Greece's "mediation" in Chad will continue until troop withdrawal is complete.
In the view of political analysts here, Papandreou has reaped considerable domestic benefit from his role in the negotiations concerning Chad.
Unlike France, where the embarrassing reversals on the Libyan troop issue after the Crete meeting carried a heavy political cost for Mitterrand, the summit was publicized here as a diplomatic triumph for the socialist prime minister.
The publicity silenced citics who doubted a government announcement that Greece had played a key mediating role in bringng about the Franco-Libyan withdrawal accord in September.
"Mitterrand's presence in Crete legitimized not only Qaddafi but also Papandreou's activities, which were seen to fall within the western pale," Christos Rozakis, professor of international relations at Athens University said.
"Besides, the way Qaddafi is perceived by the average Greek is not the same as the way he is seen by the average American or Englishman," Rozakis added. "There is a degree of geographical and cultural proximity between Greece and North Africa, and Qaddafi has never acted as a terrorist vis-a-vis Greece, as he has for the U.S. and Britain, and also France."
Analysts agree, however, that the Papandreou government has good cause to worry that some of this valuable domestic political capital might be lost if the Crete summit proves a failure on the ground in Chad. They also say that this will carry a cost in terms of Greece's relations with France.
Since coming to power, Papandreou has made much of his friendship with the Socialists in Paris, a friendship which became concrete with the announcement last week of Athen's intention to buy 40 French-made Mirage 2000 aircraft for its Air Force modernization program.
"Knowing Andreas Papandreou , he probably presented quite an optimistic picture to Mitterrand to get the Crete meeting. The degree to which the agreement is implemented will affect relations and surely, this will have an effect on Greek public opinion," Rozakis said.
Athens-Paris relations suffered the first public sign of strain today when French officials denied a statement by Greek government spokesman Dimitris Maroudas that French observers are present in Chad under a joint French-Libyan military commission.
Such a commission was established to oversee the implementation of the Sept. 17 withdrawal accord, French officials said. But they said it was dismantled, and all French observers were withdrawn after the official pullout deadline.