As evacuees flee, Paris puts role in Chad in play

Resolutions at the United Nations or African Union could alter the mission of French troops in Chad, France’s Foreign Minister said on Monday as a first planeload of evacuees landed at a Paris airport.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defence Minister Herve Morin said French forces secured Chad’s airbases and were protecting French and foreign civilians, but had so far been been neutral in battles between rebels and government troops.

Kouchner called the rebel offensive on Chad’s capital Ndjamena a cruel attack, and said growing international condemnation could lead to other forms of intervention.

”We are not involved in this war … For the time being there is no change, but if there is a resolution in the Security Council, if there is another suggestion at the African Union meeting, we will see,” he said at Charles de Gaulle airport.

The UN Security Council met in an extraordinary session on Sunday called by France, but failed to come to agreement on a draft statement backing the Chadian government.

The African Union said Libya’s leader and the Democratic Republic of Congo president had been asked to monitor the situation in Chad.

France, Chad’s former colonial power, has troops and aircraft stationed in the country under a bilateral defence accord, and says it may fire in cases of legitimate defence.

Hundreds have been injured in two days of chaotic street fighting since a rebel assault reached Ndjamena. The French army has set up secure stations to protect fleeing expatriates.

Kouchner said the French army had rescued some civilians holed up in the United States embassy, and about 40 others who had been calling for help from the German embassy for more than 24 hours.

”They were under bombardment, it took a real military commando operation, wonderfully executed by France, to get them out,” he told reporters.

The US embassy sustained indirect fire, but there were no reports of casualties, a US State Department spokesperson said.

In the Paris hangar, dozens of Red Cross and ambulance crews had set up an aid station, but arriving evacuees appeared in good health and Foreign Ministry officials said there were no wounded on the flight carrying 202 people, mostly French.

Evacuees, some carrying children in emergency foil blankets, told reporters about conditions on the ground in Ndjamena.

”We saw the tanks and armoured vehicles, government and rebels, armed men driving around in pick-up trucks,” said Fabien la Pouge, a volunteer teacher evacuated from the Lycée Français.

Alain Parselier, in Chad for business and evacuated from from the Novotel hotel, said he never feared for his life.

”We heard heavy weapons, and saw smoke above the presidential palace, but there were many French soldiers.”

Troops loyal to Chadian President Idriss D̩by Itno struck back at rebels besieging the palace on Sunday. Kouchner said D̩by Itno had likely returned to the palace but could move during the night or when fighting erupts. A second flight of evacuees from Chad is scheduled to arrive in Paris on Tuesday from a French base in Gabon. РReuters

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