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Africa

A powder keg ready to explode

Latest update : 2009-04-20

The different crises that have hit Chad in the last couple of years have left behind a catastrophic humanitarian situation. With rebels planning a new major offensive, it is becoming urgent to find new solutions, say aid groups.

While all eyes are fixed on Sudan following President Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the situation in neighbouring Chad is threatening to get out of hand. For years, eastern Chad has been suffering from the consequences of several closely linked conflicts: the one setting Chadian President Idriss Déby against rebel armed groups, the one in next-door Darfur; and the one between Chad and Sudan.
 

The toll of these conflicts is heavy for eastern Chad: 167,000 internally displaced persons in addition to the 265,000 Sudanese refugees who are now living in camps in a region where natural resources are becoming scarce. Déby has always managed to present the situation internationally as a direct consequence of the crisis in Darfur, thus avoiding the local sources of the problem.
 
Expulsion of NGO's
 

Though tensions have indeed been exacerbated by the crisis in neighbouring Sudan, the conflict in the east of the country is essentially Chadian. In his struggle to retain power, keenly contested by armed opposition movements, Déby has thrived on existing ethnic animosity and progressively turned ethnic groups against each other.
 

The situation could deteriorate in the coming weeks, especially after the expulsion of thirteen non-governmental organisations from Sudan as the authorities in Khartoum reacted to the Bashir’s ICC indictment, which could spark fresh flows of thousands of refugees fleeing from violence and misery in Darfur. Moreover, two months before the rainy season, Chadian rebels are preparing to launch their annual large-scale attack. Civilians will once again bear the brunt of this.

 
Although the international community has launched two peacekeeping missions in the region in the past year -- mainly to avoid contagion by the crisis in Darfur -- they have not really improved the security situation. The United Nations mission, which took over from the European force on 15 March, is unlikely to change things. Considering the weakness of its mandate and that the force will not be entirely deployed before the end of 2009, it will no doubt be unable to protect the population effectively, especially as its troop level has been cut to 2,200 for the time being.
 
Peace conference needed
 

By focussing all its attention on the humanitarian dimension of the crisis and its links to the tragedy in Darfur instead of on the profound causes of the Chadian crisis in Chad itself, the international community has embraced Déby’s language and left the Chadian rebels entirely free to stir up local sources of tension.
 

In order to put an end to the crisis it is urgent to organise a peace conference dedicated specifically to eastern Chad, which would include the following protagonists: governments, traditional chiefs, sultans, representatives of communities and non governmental organisations, rebels and opposition parties. Together, these different players should address the root causes of the crisis and try to find solutions. This conference should be supported by the government, but also by the international community, which should stop burying its head in the sand and put forward diplomatic as well as financial aid.
 

France, in particular, which has contributed to strengthening Déby without helping the Chadians find a solution to the crisis, has an important role to play and should put pressure on the Chadian government so it contributes to the organisation of this conference.

Date created : 2009-04-20

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