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Civil War in Chad (1965-1979)

The prolonged civil warfare in Chad had its origins in a spontaneous peasant uprising in Guéra Prefecture in 1965 against new taxes imposed by President Tombalbaye. The rebellion represented a rekindling of traditional animosities between the Muslim northern and central regions and the predominantly non-Muslim people of the south who had dominated the government and civil service since independence. After unrest broke out in other areas, the various dissident groups were merged into the National Liberation Front of Chad (Front de Libération Nationale du Chad--FROLINAT) at a meeting in Sudan in 1966, although FROLINAT leaders at first had little contact with the fighting men in the field. From its starting point in Guéra, the rebellion spread to other east-central prefectures. The struggle broke out in the north in early 1968, when the always restive and warlike Toubou nomads destroyed the army garrison at Aozou.

Amid increasing destabilization in the early 1970s, Tombalbaye sought first to protect southern interests. He implemented the authenticité movement, an ill-conceived campaign (modeled on that of Zairian president Mobutu Sese Seko) that deemed southern cultural characteristics more authentic than those of the north. Opponents successfully exploited public outrage when Tombalbaye required civil servants to undergo yondo--traditional initiation rites indigenous only to his ethnic constituency among the Sara population of the south . Weak efforts to pacify the north by granting limited autonomy to traditional leaders and releasing prominent political prisoners served only to recruit new dissidents.

The government asked the French to intervene when rebel activity threatened some of the administrative posts in the east and north. A French expeditionary force succeeded in recapturing most of the FROLINAT-held regions, but, after the withdrawal of the French in 1971, FROLINAT was again able to operate relatively freely. Internal divisions, however, prevented FROLINAT from capitalizing immediately on the weaknesses of the Tombalbaye regime. Early on, the movement's ideologue, Abba Siddick, lost control to more militant factions. Goukouni broke with the First Liberation Army, which Siddick commanded, and formed the Second Liberation Army, later known as FAN. As of 1973, northern Borkou and Tibesti subprefectures were occupied by the Second Liberation Army, leaving the First Liberation Army in control in Ennedi.

After Muammar al Qadhaafi seized power in Libya in 1969, he exploited Chad's instability by stationing troops in northern Chad and by channeling support to Chadian insurgents. Although Tombalbaye expelled Libyan diplomats in 1971, blaming them for inciting a coup attempt and inspiring unrest, in general he sought a balance between concessions and resistance to Qadhaafi's regional designs, hoping to persuade Qadhaafi to reduce his support for Chadian insurgents. Tombalbaye voiced a willingness to cede the Aozou Strip and did not object to Libyan troops' being stationed there after 1973. Chad erupted in renewed protests against Tombalbaye's unpopular and weakened regime. Despite the help of French combat forces, the Tombalbaye government was never able to quell the insurgency. Tombalbaye's rule became more irrational and brutal, leading the military to carry out a coup in 1975, assassinating Tombalbaye and installing General Felix Malloum, another southerner, as head of state.

General Félix Malloum, a former government critic imprisoned by Tombalbaye, proclaimed himself head of the Supreme Military Council (Conseil Supérieur Militaire--CSM), which seized power in 1975. As a southerner with strong kinship ties to the north, Malloum believed that he could reconcile Chad's divided regions and establish representative institutions. He set a high priority on freeing Chad from French economic and political control, but in this effort he was unsuccessful. He sent French combat forces home, but he retained several hundred French advisers and renegotiated a series of military accords to ensure emergency aid.

Malloum was unable to convert dissatisfaction with Tombalbaye's regime into acceptance of his own. His opponents exploited popular displeasure with the remaining French presence by recruiting new dissidents. In response to this threat, Malloum seized control of all branches of government and, in the increasingly repressive manner that characterized his presidency, banned almost all political activity. His opposition coalesced around FROLINAT, which established alternative administrations in outlying areas to compete with N'Djamena. In 1978, in the face of mounting violence, Malloum reluctantly called for the return of French forces.

In the meantime, Goukouni had been joined by the young and dynamic Habré, who had been named commander in chief of the Command Council of the Armed Forces of the North (Conseil de Commandement des Forces Armées du Nord--CCFAN). Habré, however, was ousted in 1976, when he objected to Goukouni's willingness to cooperate with Libya to further the struggle against the central government. The two leaders also differed over Habré's kidnapping of French citizens and holding them for ransom as a means of raising funds.

Most of FROLINAT's First Liberation Army was reunified under Goukouni's overall command as FAP during 1977. (Habré reclaimed the name FAN for his followers.) Equipped with freshly supplied Libyan weapons, FAP carried on a broad offensive against government troops until a cease-fire was laboriously negotiated in March 1978. The truce was soon broken by Goukouni, whose troops soundly defeated the government army and threatened N'Djamena. French forces were again airlifted into the country and were decisive in routing FAP in a series of sharp engagements during the spring of 1978. During the course of the fighting, much of the new equipment FAP had received from Libya was abandoned.

In 1978, Malloum's government was broadened to include more northerners. Internal dissent within the government led the northern prime minister, Hissein Habre, to send his fighters against the national army in the capital in 1979, reigniting the civil war.

In spite of the French rescue effort, the Malloum government was weakened both politically and militarily by the defeats administered to FAT, the national army. To shore up his position, Malloum offered Habré the post of prime minister in a government of national unity under the former's presidency. The new government, however, failed to function because it was paralyzed by factional differences. Clashes between FAT and Habré's FAN were frequent in the capital. General fighting broke out between the two forces in February 1979. The poorly led, less aggressive FAT troops were soon driven out of N'Djamena by FAN. When the fighting ended, the looting and summary executions that followed precipitated a mass exodus of southern civilians. Mutual reprisals followed. Massacres of Muslims in southern towns were countered by executions of southern officials in eastern areas controlled by FAN.

French troops present in the N'Djamena area did not intervene; French neutrality in effect favored Habré, although the French attitude toward him was divided. Goukouni's FAP, meanwhile, had descended from the north to fight alongside FAN. By March 1979, the struggle had resulted in a de facto partition of Chad: the Muslim armies of FROLINAT controlled the capital, together with the northern and central prefectures, and Malloum controlled the five southernmost prefectures.

From 1979 to 1982, Chad experienced unprecedented change and spiraling violence. Southerners finally lost control of what remained of the Chadian government, while civil conflicts became significantly more internationalized. In early 1979, the fragile Malloum-Habré alliance collapsed after months of aggressive actions by Habré, including demands that more northerners be appointed to high government offices and that Arabic be used in place of French in broadcasting. Appealing for support among the large communities of Muslims and Arabs in N'Djamena, Habré unleashed his FAN on February 12. With the French garrison remaining uninvolved, FAN sent Malloum into retirement (under French protection) and drove the remnants of FAT toward the south. On February 22, Goukouni and FAP entered the capital. By this time, most of the city's Sara population had fled to the south, where attacks against Muslims and nonsoutherners erupted, particularly in Sarh, Moundou, and throughout Moyen-Chari Prefecture. By mid-March more than 10,000 were said to have died as a result of violence throughout the south.

In early 1979, Chad became an open arena of unrestrained factional politics. Opportunistic power seekers sought to gather followers (often using sectarian appeals) and to win support from Chad's African neighbors. Between March 10 and August 21, four separate conferences took place in the Nigerian cities of Kano and Lagos, during which Chad's neighbors attempted to establish a political framework acceptable to the warring factions. Chad's neighbors, however, also used the meetings to pursue interests of their own, resulting in numerous externally generated complications and a growing number of factions brought into the process.

For example, at one point, Qadhaafi became so angry with Habré that the Libyan sent arms to Colonel Wadel Abdelkader Kamougué's anti-Habré faction in the south, even though Kamougué was also anti-Libyan. At the second conference in Kano, both Habré and Goukouni were placed under what amounted to house arrest so Nigeria could promote the chances of a Kanembu leader, Mahmat Shawa Lol. In fact, Nigerian support made Lol the Chadian titular head of state for a few weeks, even though his Third Liberation Army was only a phantom force, and his domestic political support was insignificant. Within Chad the warring parties used the conferences and their associated truces to recover from one round of fighting and prepare for the next.

The final conference culminated in the Lagos Accord of August 21, 1979, which representatives of eleven Chadian factions signed and the foreign ministers of nine other African states witnessed. The Lagos Accord established the procedures for setting up the Transitional Government of National Unity (Gouvernement d'Union Nationale de Transition--GUNT), which was sworn into office in November. By mutual agreement, Goukouni was named president, Kamougué was appointed vice-president, and Habré was named minister of national defense, veterans, and war victims. The distribution of cabinet positions was balanced between south (eleven portfolios), north, center, and east (thirteen), and among protégés of neighboring states.

A peacekeeping mission of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), to be drawn from troops from Congo, Guinea, and Benin, was to replace the French. This force never materialized in any effective sense, but the OAU was committed to GUNT under the presidency of Goukouni.

GUNT, however, failed. Its major participants deeply mistrusted each other, and they never achieved a sense of coherence. As a result, the various factional militias remained armed.

By January 1980, a unit of Habré's army was attacking the forces of one of the constituent groups of GUNT in Ouaddaï Prefecture. Shortly thereafter, N'Djamena plunged into another cycle of violence, and by the end of March 1980 Habré was openly defying the government, having taken control of a section of the capital. The 600 Congolese troops of the OAU peacekeeping force remained out of the fray, as did the French, while units of five separate Chadian armies prowled the streets of N'Djamena. The battles continued throughout the summer, punctuated by more OAU mediation efforts and five formal cease-fires.

It became evident that the profound rivalry between Goukouni and Habré was at the core of the conflict. By mid-1980 the south-- cut off from communication and trade with N'Djamena and defended by a regrouped, southern army--had become a state within a state. Colonel Kamougué, the strongman of the south, remained a prudent distance away from the capital and waited to negotiate with whichever northerner emerged as the winner.

Nigeria and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) attempted to bring the Chadian factions together. In August 1979, the Lagos accord established a transitional government pending national elections planned within 18 months. Goukouni Oueddei, a northerner, was named President; Colonel Kamougue, a southerner, Vice President; and Habre, Minister of Defense. Early in 1980, however, the accord broke down and fighting broke out again between Goukouni's and Habre's partisans.

With assistance from Libya (which asserted a claim to the northern Chadian territory called the Aouzou Strip), Goukouni regained control of the capital and other urban centers and Habre retreated into Sudan. Goukouni’s policy of political union of Chad and Libya, however, was unpopular and generated support for Habre, whose forces took N'Djamena in June 1981. He proclaimed himself President. French troops and an OAU peacekeeping force of 3,500 Nigerian, Senegalese, and Zairian troops remained neutral during the conflict.

Habre continued to face armed opposition on various fronts and brutally repressed opposition to his rule. In 1983, Goukouni’s forces launched an offensive against the Habre government’s positions in northern and eastern Chad with Libyan military support. This provoked French and Zairian forces to intervene to support Habre, pushing Goukouni’s and Libyan forces northward. In 1984, the French and Libyan Governments announced the mutual withdrawal of their forces from Chad. The French and Zairian troops withdrew, but Libyan forces backing Goukouni continued to occupy northern Chad.

Habre defeated southern rebel groups and began a process of national reconciliation with former armed enemies and regime opponents. In 1986, Habre’s forces, with French and U.S. financial and logistical support, attacked and decisively defeated the Libyans and Goukouni’s forces in northern Chad in what was known as the Toyota War, from Habre’s desert warriors’ preference for using light trucks and desert-warfare tactics in overcoming the more numerous and better-armed and -equipped enemy. With Libyan forces expelled from nearly all of Chadian territory, a cease-fire was declared in 1987 and Chad and Libya restored normal relations in 1989. In 1994 the International Court of Justice confirmed Chadian sovereignty over the Aouzou Strip, effectively ending residual Libyan occupation of parts of Chad.

Habre’s increasingly authoritarian rule and perceived favoritism of his own Gorane ethnic group weakened the coalition of northern and central groups on which he depended for support. In 1989, Idriss Deby, one of Habre's leading generals and a Zaghawa, defected and fled to Darfur in Sudan, from which he mounted a Zaghawa-supported series of attacks on the Habre regime. In December 1990, with Libyan and Sudanese assistance, Deby's forces successfully marched on N'Djamena, causing Habre to flee the country. Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) approved a national charter on February 28, 1991, with Deby as president.

On May 30, 2016 a court in Senegal found former Chadian president Hissene Habre – once dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet” – guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture and sentenced him to life in prison. Rights groups hailed the landmark verdict as a strong warning to leaders who brutalize their citizens. The case against him has been over 20 years in the making.

The ruling marked the first time in the world that the courts of one country prosecuted the former ruler of another country. The trial in exile of Habré had been a long quest for justice for the victims and the families of victims. More than 4,500 victims were registered as civil parties in the case.

Habré was first indicted by a Senegalese judge in 2000, but legal twists and turns over a decade saw the case go to Belgium and then finally back to Senegal after unwavering pursuit by the survivors and their supporters. The Extraordinary African Chambers is an African Union tribunal created in 2013 within Senegal's justice system and funded by the international community. Chad's government, run by President Idriss Déby, who served as Habré's military adviser and pushed him from power, supported the trial.

The court found Habre to have been directly involved in ordering detentions, executions, systematic torture and other abuses against people identified as opponents of his regime. Judge Kam said Habre presided over eight years of "uninterrupted" repression. During sentencing, Judge Kam said Habre "created and maintained a system where impunity and terror were law. He was at the head of a regime of generalized suspicion, so paranoid that he himself turned against his own agents."

A documentary on the former Chadian strongman, which premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, featured extraordinary closing footage of the former rebel-turned-despot being forcibly carried into the courtroom, kicking and screaming.

A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission singled out the brutal police force under the former rebel leader-turned-president for some of the worst atrocities during Habré’s reign. The strong evidence was a key factor in this precedent-setting trial. In 2001, the police force's archives were discovered on the floor of its headquarters in Chad, records that went back to Habré's rule and which mention more than 12,000 victims of Chad's detention network. Rights groups said Habre was responsible for over 40,000 killings.

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