More South Africans to be airlifted from Chad

It is hoped that four more South Africans will be airlifted from Chad to Gabon on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

The four South Africans were already at the French military base in Chad’s capital Ndjamena, the DFA’s chief director for consular services Dayanand Naidoo told a press conference at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

”These four South Africans will be evacuated depending the schedule of the French military. They normally fly out in the evenings,” he said.

He said three other South Africans remained stranded in Ndjamena and were still hoping to fly out of the country after rebels attacked the capital over the weekend.

”They are safe, it’s just a matter of getting them to the French Embassy School or the French military base,” he said.

He said once those three were flown out, all the South Africans who had requested evacuation would have been assisted.

”There are a number of other South Africans in other parts of Chad. They are in contact and have not indicated that they are in any danger. The evacuations are only out of Ndjamena at the moment,” said Naidoo.

Five South Africans airlifted from Chad to Gabon on Monday night arrived safely in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

France backs Déby Itno

Meanwhile, France threw its weight behind Chad’s President Idriss Déby Itno on Tuesday, saying it could intervene against armed rebels who declared they would only stop fighting if Déby Itno quit.

After obtaining United Nations Security Council backing for Déby Itno’s government, French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the rebels France would ”do its duty” and had the means to respond to any unlawful attack against its former colony.

Chad has accused Sudan of supporting an offensive by the rebels, who stormed into the capital of the oil-producing central African country at the weekend before withdrawing. Khartoum denies backing the rebels.

Rebel leaders accused France’s military of fighting in support of Déby Itno. The French, who used troops and planes to evacuate hundreds of foreign nationals from the capital Ndjamena, quickly denied this.

Déby Itno’s government says it routed the rebels in the chaotic fighting which left bodies strewn in the dusty streets and hundreds injured. The rebels, who brand Déby Itno’s government as corrupt and dictatorial, have said they withdrew to regroup.

A rebel spokesperson, Henchi Ordjo, told Reuters they were ready for a ceasefire — but on condition Déby Itno stepped down. Another spokesperson, Abderamane Koullamalah, said they wanted a ceasefire with ”dialogue”, without mentioning Déby Itno’s departure.

Chadian Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye dismissed talk of a truce. ”A ceasefire, why? We’d agree a ceasefire with who?,” he told France 24 television, saying the rebels had fled.

France lobbied for and obtained a non-binding statement from the United Nations Security Council on Monday, which urged countries to support Déby Itno’s government against the rebels.

Sarkozy said this meant his country could intervene in Chad in support of Déby Itno if need be.

”If France has to do its duty, it will,” he told reporters during a visit to western France.

The rebel attack forced the European Union to delay the deployment of a peacekeeping force to eastern Chad to protect thousands of refugees from the war in Sudan’s Darfur region. More than half of that force will come from France.

France accused

Ordjo accused French helicopters and tanks of opening fire on Monday in support of Déby Itno’s forces near Ndjamena’s airport. ”France has involved itself directly in the conflict … they’ve caused civilian victims,” Ordjo said.

French armed forces spokesperson Christophe Prazuck denied this, but said French forces had been caught up in ”skirmishes and they fired back. It was legitimate defence,” he added.

In Ndjamena, government troops backed by tanks and helicopters were guarding the central presidential quarter. People ventured out to try to buy food, but prices of basic goods like rice and sugar had skyrocketed.

Reaffirming French backing for Déby Itno’s ”legitimately elected” rule, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said there was no sign of rebel fighters returning to the Chad capital.

”Every day and even every hour that passes shows Idriss Déby [Itno] regaining control of the whole country,” Morin told French radio. He said France was not threatening the rebels, but added there was ”a sort of sword of Damocles” hanging over them.

Critics of Déby Itno, a French-trained pilot who took power in a 1990 revolt and won elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006, accuse him of ruling like a dictator. Morin said the 2006 polls, boycotted by the main Chadian opposition, were ”perfectly democratic”.

Taking advantage of the end of the fighting, thousands of refugees carrying children and belongings streamed out of Ndjamena on Monday over the river border bridge into Cameroon.

Those who stayed said they feared for the future.

”What a curse for our country … war has broken out, and at this time as I talk to you, I haven’t got anything at home with which to buy food for my children,” Gilbert, said a civil servant who declined to give his last name. – Sapa, Reuters

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