Independent reporting on human rights, environmental and conflict issues

Chad Day 1

Arrival in N’djamena, Chad June 17, 2008.

Things are calm in the capital after a series of rebel attacks in the east destabilized regular proceedings and raised the alert levels considerably. The rebels have apparently passed back over the border into Sudan now. Things seem to be relatively under control according to reports, but it’s still too soon to tell. One thing is certain, however, and that is that news coming out of the country is full of misinformation. Rebel deaths are more than likely overstated by the Chadian army, and the magnitude of the attacks have been largely exaggerated as well.

President Deby and his government can’t seem to agree on what statements to make, and EUFOR is caught somewhere in the middle. The French EUFOR press spokesperson rolled his eyes and laughed this morning at the circus. “Here, everything is easy,” he said, referring to the capital, but getting proper information seems rather an impossible task amid countless conflicting reports and muscle flexing.

Very few journalists are here, and several who tried to get out to the camps on the border this week were unable to complete their mission due to the security situation. It will be interesting to see how EUFOR is carrying out its duties once we get out east. Deby issued a harsh statement yesterday, accusing EUFOR of helping the rebels by doing nothing, and the spokesperson for CARE International voiced concerns during an interview this evening, saying they have been more or less ineffective at containing the security situation, and have pushed for IDP’s to return home prematurely in order to make the program look like a success story.

The French army, which has maintained a presence here since 1986, is reluctant to intervene as they feel it might jeopardize EUFOR’s mission, since the latter is more than 50 percent French, but the EUFOR presence here is seen by some as a way to sneak more troops in through the backdoor. The rebels view the Deby government as a puppet dictator propped up by the French, who many say never really left their former colony. Things seem to be deteriorating on all fronts as Deby’s government looses credibility with the people, a civil war is brewing, and an increasing number of incursions by rebels coming from Sudan continue to destabilize the humanitarian effort on the border.

Last February when rebels advanced on the capital in an attempted coup, French military intervened to help the Chadian army push them back. My fixer Ahmed told me this morning that the actual number of French troops inside Chad is kept secret, as was the number of deaths that resulted from the fighting. It is estimated, he said, that some 200 civilians and 300 rebels perished in the two days of fighting that erupted on February 2, but most press accounts only site 200.

After watching a video this evening made by some colleagues who were here in February, I was struck by the intensity of the attacks. They were trapped in the Meridian Hotel, which came heavily under direct fire. I was in Kenya at that time, and friends of mine who jumped aboard the first plane to N’djamena never made it beyond the tarmac of the airport. Virtually no press was on the ground to cover the situation up close, the dearth of images coming out in the papers was proof of that back then, and the testimony of my colleagues this evening supports my suspicions that the events were more or less kept under wraps. My colleagues told me they were reading news on the internet that the Chadian government and rebels had struck a peace accord as they crouched in their hotel room amid sounds of mortar and machines guns just outside their window; strange for a country that claims to have real freedom of press.

I will be flying east tomorrow morning with my colleague, David, to Abeche with a Spanish unit. From there we will head towards the border with Darfur to the refugee camps and go on patrol with EUFOR. Stay tuned for updates.

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