Chad’s rebel forces are a coalition of groups brought together under the banner of the “United Front for Change.” The biggest movement among them was behind an offensive last December in eastern Chad near the border with Sudan. They were driven back by the Chadian army but the rebels maintain they were testing the ground for future attacks.
“We’ve acquired a lot more arms,” said one commander, adding that many weapons came from government forces. He also claims senior officers have defected to the rebel side from President Deby’s army. There is no independent verification of these claims. Most of the insurgents belong to the ethnic Tama community in the east of the country. President Deby is from the Zaghawa population. The rebels also claim that top civil officials have joined their cause, among them one former provincial governor. A former French colony, Chad has been independent since 1960. But Paris maintains a political and economic influence and supports the current leadership. Perhaps of more significance to current events, France retains a military force in Chad under an accord between the two countries. More than a thousand troops are stationed there, their mission is to support and advise the government and give logistical assistance to the army. The conflict may be complicated by Chad’s new-found oil wealth. Since 2003 it has been exporting the resource in a pipeline running through Cameroon to the Atlantic. But the nation remains desperately poor – among the world’s most impoverished -and corruption in government at all levels is rife. Against this background the spectre of civil war is threatening more misery for the people of Chad.