SCOTT SIMON, host:
There's fighting this morning in Chad between the nation's military and rebel forces. As many as 1500 rebel fighters entered the capital city of N'Djamena today after a five-day march from Chad's eastern border, across from Darfur. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton's been following the story from Nairobi. Ofeibea, thanks very much for being with us.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, it's a pleasure.
SIMON: And what news do you get from the capital?
QUIST-ARCTON: We understand that early this morning, Chad time, that these rebels who have vowed to topple the president, Idriss Deby, actually entered the outskirts of the city and are now battling outside the presidential palace with government and that a resistance is being put up by the president's men, but that the rebels have actually reached the capital, which is pretty startling.
SIMON: What do they want?
QUIST-ARCTON: They have said that Idriss Deby is governing the country badly, that he is mismanaging and squandering Chad's newfound oil wealth, and that he's got to go. That he has cheated in elections, that he marginalizes sections of this country and that it's time for him to go. Now up till now, France, the former colonial power in Chad, has always backed Idriss Deby. Two years ago, the rebels did the same thing. It was a lighting strike on N'Djamena. They advanced at a cracking pace down to the capital and were almost poised to topple Idriss Deby. But France, which has this bilateral military accord with Chad, backed him up and actually bailed him out. It looks like under this new president, Nicolas Sarkozy in France, that France isn't prepared to do that this time around.
SIMON: The French do have a military base there in Chad, don't they?
QUIST-ARCTON: They do indeed, and they sent in reinforcements yesterday. But they have said specifically, this is to protect French and European citizens. And this morning I heard a French military spokesman saying, we are not involved in the fighting. Up till now, France has used its superior air power and intelligence to help the Chadian government. But it looks as if this time Idriss Deby has become too much of a liability for them.
SIMON: I've heard that nephews of the president are among the rebels.
QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, and former soldiers. Idriss Deby himself is a former military general. He came to power, I was there Scott, in December 1990 supported by Sudan, who he now accuses of backing the rebels. And this is how it goes in Chad. It goes from revolution to invasion to coup d'etat. And it looks like 18 years later, although he is an incredible political survivor, that it may be time up for Idriss Deby. But we have this regional situation of Darfur in Sudan, problems in Chad, problems in the Central African Republic. Each side blaming each other for supporting each other's rebels, and now a very, very unstable situation in this part of the whole of Africa and Central Africa.
SIMON: Ofeibea, without getting ahead of ourselves, what are some of the regional implications or some of the concerns now?
QUIST-ARCTON: The catalyst is Darfur, as you know now, entering its fifth year of crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees have crossed over into eastern Chad, which abuts Sudan's troubled western region. Now in Sudan, the government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who backed President Idriss Deby of Chad when he came to power 18 years ago, is now saying no, he doesn't want to see an international force in Darfur. And he certainly doesn't want to see European peacekeepers at the border with Chad, Central African Republic, and Darfur to protect civilians. So now we're seeing regional instability which could really escalate into more trouble whether or not Idriss Deby is toppled by these rebels, who he says are supported by Sudan.
SIMON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton monitoring the situation from Chad from her post in Nairobi. Thanks very much for being with us.
QUIST-ARCTON: Thank you.
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