Thursday, February 07, 2008

Protecting Darfur

This is an e-mail I sent in response to Darfur dilemmas - An exchange with Alex de Waal  (Wednesday, January 09, 2008):
the public pressure that most western governments have been feeling on the issue of Darfur has been shamefully weak, not excessive–-and outside the US and (to a lesser degree) Britain, it has been fairly minimal.
I can only speak for the French media, of which I hear quite a bit, but they do have a fair amount of coverage. As it happens, only tonight (14 Jan.) there was another piece on Radio France Inter.

You may also recall a long article by Bernard-Henri Lévy, which was translated both into British English and American English last May.

As you are probably aware, the Darfur conflict has spilled over into Chad and the Central African Republic. There a European, mainly French, force is being deployed (though there are considerable difficulties with this). France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, known for proposing the droit d'ingérence (right to intervene) is a strong supporter of this. Accused of defending [Chad's autocratic and corrupt leader] Idriss Déby, Kouchner responded that the force was to defend villages, women and children (Interview on Europe 1, 11 Jan.)

Update: during the weekend 2-3 Feb. rebels, almost certainly backed by Sudan, probably with the aim of preventing the deployment of the Eufo to protect Darfur rebels in Chad, came close to unseating the Déby government. Mixed messages have been coming from Paris. Commentators on the BBC World Service suggested that, infuriated by France's failure to assist him, would block the deployment.

But by 6 Feb, France Inter news was reporting that, since France has given 'significant help' to the Chad government, President Déby was even considering a pardon for the Zoe's Ark six, 'if France asks for it.' Bernard Kouchner, in an interview on Europe 1 that morning, said that the deployment of the Eufo had obviously been put on hold, but he hoped it could begin on Friday. Kouchner said that, whatever you thought of it, the Chad government had been legitimately elected.

Update: It seems that helicopter gunships played a key role in the defence of N'Djamena. French troops defending the airport to allow the evacuation of Europeans, as a side effect it could be argued, also protected the gunships from the rebels (Analysis ,  BBC World Service, 12 Feb - listen link valid for one week). The rebellion also had a lot of support from within Chad. The Déby government may be using the situation as a smokescreen for cracking down on dissidents. One key complaint against Déby is that he changed the constitution to allow himself to stand for a second time as president.

All that said, it's a difficult situation, but the French actions, side effect or not, could be justified: the possibility of Sudan imposing a more compliant government on Chad was hardly to be welcomed.


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