Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and Chadian President Hissen Habre, bitter enemies in a long desert conflict, restored diplomatic relations between their nations Monday and agreed to solve their differences peacefully.
A statement issued in both countries said the move is effective immediately and that the two governments will set up full diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals by the end of October.
Chad and Libya agreed in September, 1987, to observe a cease-fire brokered by the 50-member Organization of African Unity (OAU), ending fighting in northern Chad. Earlier phases of the conflict were dominated by Libya’s involvement in a long and tangled Chadian civil war.
The agreement came a year after Habre’s forces, in a series of lightning battles, drove the Libyans out of northern Chad after years of occupation in support of Chadian rebels.
Silent on Disputed Area
Monday’s statement did not mention the disputed Aozou Strip, a 44,000-square-mile band of territory along the northern border of Chad that was seized by Libya in 1973. Rival claims to the Aozou Strip, said to contain iron ore and uranium deposits, go back to a 1935 agreement between France and Italy, the prewar colonial powers in Chad and Libya respectively.
In an interview last month, Kadafi said he was willing to negotiate the status of the Aozou.
The statement said the two governments had reaffirmed their willingness “to scrupulously abide by the Sept. 11, 1987, truce and to settle their land dispute peacefully, respecting the United Nations and OAU charters.”
Thousands of Chadians and Libyans have died in the war, in which Chad was supported militarily by France and also received U.S. military supplies.
A Shift for Kadafi
While not unexpected, Monday’s announcement represented a dramatic U-turn for Kadafi, who has long felt threatened by the U.S.- and French-backed government on his southern border.
Diplomats in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, said the Chad-Libya rapprochement was part of a wider bid by the Libyan leader to break out of his diplomatic isolation.
They said the war with Chad had proved devastating for the Libyan military, unpopular at home and a burden on an economy already hit by recession caused by falling oil revenues.
For years, Libya had given military and political support to the government of rebel Chad leader Goukouni Oueddei, who still contests the leadership of President Habre.
The diplomats said the turning point came in September, 1987, when Chadian troops, after recapturing most of the Libyan-held north, launched a devastating raid on a major air base inside Libya.
Chad said at the time that nearly 2,000 Libyans were killed and millions of dollars in military equipment--including six Soviet-made MIG-23 fighters--were destroyed or seized.
The diplomats said the surprise raid on the Matan as Sarra air base and battles leading up to it had a profound impact on the Libyan army and ordinary Libyans.
Previously, Libyan mercenaries and Chadian rebels had borne the brunt of the fighting. But after the air base raid, a Tripoli-based diplomat said, “People started seeing funeral caskets in Tripoli for young men killed in Chad. It was something most Libyans were not prepared to accept.”