The French Defence Ministry is willing to look into a demand by Chadian President Idriss Deby that it “pay a price” for stationing French soldiers in the former central African colony, the newspaper Le Figaro reported Thursday.
Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno criticised France’s military presence in the country Wednesday in comments to mark the 50th anniversary of independence from its former colonial ruler. The veteran leader told reporters that his government would seek financial compensation for allowing France to maintain its military operation, codenamed Epervier (Sparrowhawk), which he said “is no longer playing a role” in Chad.
“It’s now 20 years since Epervier exists and it no longer playing a role apart from providing some healthcare for the sick and logistical support in case of an attack somewhere,” he said.
“We are going to review the accord….France pays nothing to Chad apart from some goods which come in through customs. “If France wants to stay in Chad and use its planes, train its men, there is a price to pay and the accord will allow us to clafiry what France must pay Chad.”
“On the other hand, if France says that it does not have the means to pay and that it wants to leave, we will maintain the best possible relations but we won’t stop Epervier from leaving,” he said.
“We have no defence accord with France. And the presence of Epervier has nothing to do with our independence or our sovereignty. Epervier is not here to help or support a government or a regime.”
France has around 1,100 soldiers based in Chad and 800 others are serving in a UN-led force to protect refugees in eastern Chad, mostly from Darfur in western Sudan.
However, in January the government said it wanted the 3,300-strong UN Mission to the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) to leave the country.
The UN Security Council in May ordered the withdrawal to be completed by the end of the year, at Chad’s request. Deby said the UN mission was “a failure,” and accused the troops of remaining behind the safety of their razor-wire fences and not venturing out to help refugees.
France launched Operation Epervier in 1986, sending forces into Chad to prop up then-president Hissene Habre, who was under attack from Libya. The French troops have since maintained a presence near Ndjamena airport and in the eastern city of Abeche.
President Deby feels sufficiently secure that he has demanded the French pay for the privilege of stationing over a thousand troops in Chad. France has had troops in Chad for decades, to assist the government in maintaining order (and staying in power).
Chadians resent having to depend on their old colonial masters to keep things running, so Deby’s demand for money from France is popular in Chad. France is reluctant to withdraw their troops from Chad because China is more economically active in the country, and might offer to provide Deby with any security services he needs. Chinese firms have been active in building the pipeline that gets the oil out of the country. Many Chinese are entering Chad to start businesses, as they are doing throughout Africa.