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Chad's Leader Blames Sudan for Country's Woes

Chad's embattled president, Idriss Deby, has set out to prove that Sudan orchestrated an April 13 attempted coup, but many Chadians say France, the former colonial power, must share the blame for the central African nation's crisis.

The day before the April 13 incursion in N'Djamena, a French fighter jet fired warning shots near a column of rebels as they moved toward the capital. When the rebels launched their pre-dawn assault on the capital, Chadian soldiers already were waiting for them, having been tipped off by French intelligence officials.

That is according to Chad's president, Idriss Deby.

Shortly after Chad's army defeated the rebels with 350 people dead, mainly rebels and civilians, a rebel commander said that if France had not intervened, the rebels would have toppled the government.

French officials have said their jet acted to try to head off the possibility of massive civilian casualties if the rebels should enter deep within the capital, home to about 700,000 people, including 1500 French nationals.

Many Chadians consider France to be President Deby's most powerful ally. His critics say he is an increasingly autocratic leader who, after nearly 16 years in power, shows no signs of stepping down.

President Deby presides over an administration that Transparency International recently rated as one of Africa's most corrupt countries.

Chad is Africa's newest oil producer, raking in about $100 million a year in oil revenue since 2003. But France's interest in Chad is more military than economic, says Massalbaye Tennebaye, president of Chad's Human Rights Commission.

"France is helping the army to fight against the rebels. France is still following the way of colonialism, using Chad militarily to widen its strength. That is all," he said.

France has, in most cases, close ties with the leaders of its former colonies in Africa.

It has about 10,000 troops spread out across francophone Africa, including 4,000 in Ivory Coast, nearly 3,000 in Djibouti, as well as about 1,200 in Chad. For decades, France has supported its former colonies with economic aid and military support.

But in N'Djamena, animosity toward the French is running high.

Many ordinary Chadians are disappointed with France for not expressing displeasure with President Deby for pushing through major changes to Chad's constitution. The changes ended term limits and allowed him to run for a third term in the upcoming May 3rd presidential elections.

Yaldet Begoto Oulator is the publisher of the N'Djamena, a twice-weekly newspaper in the capital.

"The French government must be on the side of the people in order to organize transparent elections. This is [a] role France should [play]. If France is a friend of Chad, it should be done so. Otherwise, it will be a failure," he said.

In a recent cartoon on the front page of the N'Djamena newspaper, President Deby and his opposition challengers are lined up on a race track as the French ambassador to Chad gets ready to fire the starting gun. In the cartoon, a nervous President Deby looks expectantly at the ambassador, who reassures him that the challengers do not really matter. They are just the rabbits, he says.

But in the real presidential race, there are no challengers. It is a race that opposition groups have vowed to boycott and rebels have vowed to stop.

And France has vowed to remain neutral.