Rebels in Chad have declared war on the former colonial power France, claiming its forces were backing the government in vicious fighting between them.
The Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) said in a statement that it “considers itself to be in a state of war against the French army or against any other foreign forces on national territory”.
The declaration is an explicit threat against a French-led EU peacekeeping force which is preparing to deploy near Chad’s eastern border with Sudan to protect aid workers and refugees fleeing the conflict in Darfur.
Chad’s own turmoil is partly a spillover from Darfur, with N’Djamena accusing Khartoum of backing the UFDD and Sudan levelling parallel allegations against Idriss Deby, the Chadian leader.
In keeping with the ‘one man, one vote, once’ school of democracy practised across much of Africa in the decades following independence, France often ensured that its man won the vote as its colonies won their freedom and then established a defence pact to protect its interests.
Paris has troops and aircraft stationed in Chad under such an accord, and the UFDD said French warplanes had overflown rebel positions between the towns of Guereda and Adre on Thursday, amid clashes which have reportedly killed hundreds of people in recent days.
“Providing diplomatic, strategic and logistical support to the tyrant Idriss Deby is an act of hostility and will be treated as such,” the UFDD said.
Mr Deby, in power since 1990, was re-elected last year in elections which were controversial but accepted by the international community.
The French president Nicholas Sarkozy said the declaration of war would not affect the deployment of the EU force.
“The operation will go ahead,” he said. “If we decided to send a European force to one side of the border and a mixed force on the other side it is because there are problems, conflicts, difficulties.
“If there were none we would not have decided to send soldiers.”
Around half the 3,500-strong force will be French, with Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, among others, also contributing.