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ALGIERS, Algeria-The Republic of Chad celebrates a decade of independence from France on August 14. But anniversary celebrations are likely to be limited. The country, a wind-swept desert sandbox in north central Africa, is torn by a protracted guerrilla war which began in June 1966 and has led to the intervention of 2,000 French troops.
The Chad government claims the strife is nothing more than a tribal dispute and Chad President Francois Tombalbaye has called the insurgents "incipient bandits." But sources say that 2.000 French Foreign Legionnaires-veterans of the Algerian war-would not have flown in to quell a minor tribal flare-up. The war is now waging in most provinces and has considerable support throughout the country.
In essence, the war began when Moslems in the north attempted to wrest power from the French-placed Christian government of Tombalbaye whom they accuse of having instituted a series of repressive measures.
When the guerrilla movement began to gain strength, Tombalbaye called for French intervention under a defense agreement signed when Chad gained independence from France in 1960. This intervention, now in its second year, is causing increased embarrassment in Paris where President Pompidou has been accused of left-wing socialist leader Francois Mitterand of engaging in a small-scale Vietnam.
In fact, French government officials are now speaking of a "Chadization" of this war and present French military plans call for the gradual withdrawal of French troops from Chad through next July. But the official government plan, released this January and bearing Pompidou's impress, calls for increased French aid-in arms, funds, and technical advisors-through 1975.
Since independence, France has maintained a standing army of 1,000 Legionnaires outside Fort Lamy, Chad's capital. But since April, 1969, when Tombalbaye called for French intervention, French military presence in Chad has more than tripled. Using sophisticated weapons, including helicopters and light aircraft, the Legionnaires trace guerrilla tracks of flight across the sands; armed convoys penetrate desolate sand dunes chasing bands of rebels.
The insurgents, on the other hand, number at most 3,000 and are poorlyequipped. Many are fighting with primitive spears made out of rusty car springs. They have one gun for every ten men. United under the slogan "Vanquish or Die." the rebels have formed a political-military organization. The National Front of Liberation For Chad (FROLINAT). It's self-proclaimed spokesman is a 44-year-old surgeon, Dr. Aba Siddick, who is exiled in Tripoli, Libya.
Siddick says. "FROLINAT has a double purpose: to fight against the violence of the present Chad regime and to replace it with a popular, progressive government."
There seems to be no question that the Arabs have suffered discrimination and abusive punishment under Tombalbaye's regime. Their claims have been documented by French Captain Pierre Galopin, sent to Chad in 1968 by the French government to assess Tombalbaye's policies.
$30 Per Year
Galopin reported that federally-appointed tax collectors often tripled tax rates set in Fort Lamy and pocketed the difference. Nomads wearing tribal Toubou belt daggers were fined $53 for sporting the blade-a Gtiff fine in a country where the annual average income per person is less than $30.
Galopin also reported that Arab women were paraded naked in public and lashings were not uncommon for Arabs who committed insidemeanors. In addition, only black Christians and animists from the south were name I to prefectures in the north; tribal chiefs who had long held judicial powers in their oases were ousted by Tombalbaye's officials.
FROLINAT spokesmen in Algiers deny that FROLINAT receives outside support from neighboring countries. In earlier stages of the war, FROLINAT forces were using southern Libya as a base of operations. But Libya recently agreed to stop aiding the guerrillas in Chad as a condition for receiving 100 Mirage jets from France by 1975.
Any help that Algeria may be giving the guerrillas is strictly unofficial. In compliance with its membership in the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Algeria cannot openly support an insurgent group within another OAU nation, in this case, Chad. It is suspected that the Algerians may have trained Chadian guerrillas in the Sarara desert at one time, but the Algerian government denies it. At the same time, the Algerians refuse to admit FROLINAT has an office in Algiers.
Power for France
Why have the French risked international criticisms of imperialism for their involvement in what appears to be an exceedingly poor country? African specialists point out that there may be two reasons. Chad is of strategic military importance serving as the center of a French communications and military network. Former French Minister of the Armed Forces Pierre Mesmer once boasted that France could dispatch a regiment of paratroopers anywhere in Africa within 24 hours. (The 1963 coup in Gabon was reversed within a day by French paratroopers believed to have been airlifted from Fort Lamy).
In addition, geologists point out that Chad is likely to have untapped oases of oil beneath her burning desert sands. They suspect that a rich uranium belt that underlies the Central African Republic stretches into Chad as well. France may be eyeing such resources for the development of her atomic stockpiles.
This wealth is not visible on the surface, however, where 3.5 million peasants live, most of them working the sandy soils in subsistance farming. Economically, Chad is presently one of the poorest countries in Africa.
And making matters worse, the country is locked in a sticky quasi-religious war which could go on for some time. Celebrations will be hollow-if not muted-this Independence Day.
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