CHADIAN OPPOSITION CLASHES WITH GOVERNMENT TROOPS
Reports have emerged of a pair of battles on April 24 and April 28 between Chadian government forces and those of the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance Nationale (FPRN), one of a number of rebel movements seeking to overthrow the government of President Idriss Déby. The fighting apparently took place close to the village of For Djahaname, near the border with Sudan’s Darfur province. Fighting took place in December 2009 in the same region, which is home to the cross-border Salamat Arab tribe (al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 1).
Government spokesmen claimed the army had killed 105 insurgents and captured another 80 in the two clashes. FPRN forces led by Adam Yacoub claimed to have defeated the government’s troops on April 24, capturing a large quantity of weapons, but after the second battle it said only that large numbers of troops had been lost on both sides and that it was awaiting expected air raids by Chadian warplanes (AFP, April 24). The FPRN leadership later claimed the regime had been “caught lying red-handed,” and that 64 wounded soldiers had been taken to French military facilities in Chad for medical treatment (AFP, May 1).
Unlike most of the Chadian opposition groups, which are based across the border in Darfur, the FPRN is based inside Chad. The usual pattern for such attacks is for N’Djamena to claim that those responsible were working for the Sudanese government, followed by retaliatory attacks by Chad’s own proxies in Darfur. When the initial attack occurs in Sudan, the entire process is reversed. This time, however, N’Djamena did not blame Khartoum, keeping instead to the reconciliatory path the two nations have been following since January (see Terrorism Monitor, January 21). Rather than recriminations, N’Djamena actually congratulated Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on his “brilliant” victory in the recent Sudanese elections (Reuters, April 29). President Déby also did Khartoum a favor by denouncing the Southern Sudanese separatist movement, saying independence would harm both Sudan and the region at large. The Chad-Sudan border was reopened in mid-April for the first time in seven years (AFP, April 14).
The N’Djamena regime began negotiations with several opposition groups in April as part of the larger reconciliation program, but the FPRN was not involved in these talks (AFP, April 26). The movement consists mainly of rebels who left the umbrella UFR group because they opposed negotiations with the Déby regime. Another rebel movement, the Mouvement pour la democratie et la justice au Tchad (MDJT), signed a ceasefire with the government on April 24 (PANA Online, April 24). MDJT fighters are scheduled to be integrated into Chad’s military and security forces. Déby is said to be exhausted with never-ending negotiations with Chad’s rebel movements, and has told the remaining rebels that he has “no money, no positions, or anything else to give” (L’Observateur [N’Djamena], April 14).
Unfortunately for Déby, the clashes came just as his government was attempting to persuade Europe and the United Nations that peacekeepers are no longer needed in eastern Chad, the site of the battles. N’Djamena has insisted on the departure of the U.N.’s Mission des Nations Unies en République centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), a 5,000-man peacekeeping mission deployed in the Central African Republic and the eastern regions of Chad, the frontline of the conflict between Déby’s regime and the insurgents. Without cooperation from N’Djamena, MINURCAT’s Irish and Finnish contingents have decided to withdraw, while the mission as a whole will be drastically scaled back as heavy weapons and equipment are withdrawn from Chad. After May 16, the mission will consist of only 1,900 men, far short of the figure necessary to be effective. Déby has called the mission “a failure,” suggesting the peacekeepers were unwilling to leave the safety of their fortified bases (AFP, April 23).
Across the border in Darfur, it appears that the peace accord between Khartoum and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is beginning to unravel. JEM, which appears to have lost some degree of its former support from N’Djamena, has reported various low level clashes with government forces in recent days. JEM forces in West Darfur claim Sudanese MiGs and Antonov aircraft are flying reconnaissance flights over JEM deployments in West Darfur in preparation for a major government offensive using heavy weapons and local auxiliaries (Sudan Tribune, April 22).
JAPAN OPENS NAVAL BASE IN DJIBOUTI IN DEFIANCE OF PEACE CONSTITUTION
Japanese authorities have confirmed their intention to develop a Japanese naval base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, already home to large American and French military installations. The base will be Japan’s first overseas since Japan’s defeat in 1945 and the major political and military reforms that followed. The $40 million base is expected to be ready early in 2011 and will provide a permanent port for ships of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF).
The plans for a Japanese base in Djibouti were first announced last July, when Tokyo outlined its intention to build housing facilities and an airstrip for JMSDF Lockheed P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft. The decision followed a request by U.S. authorities for Japan to build facilities that would allow it to take a larger role in security operations in the Gulf of Aden (Kyodo News, July 31, 2009).
Japanese navy commander Keizo Kitagawa of the JMSDF’s Plans and Policy section told reporters "We are deploying here to fight piracy and for our self-defense. Japan is a maritime nation and the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Aden through which 20,000 vessels sail every year is worrying" (AFP, April 23). According to Japanese authorities, 99% of Japanese exports rely on use of the shipping lanes off Somalia (Somaliland Press, April 29; Alshahid, April 29).
Japan sent teams of military experts to Yemen, Oman, Kenya and Djibouti to explore the possibilities of opening a naval base in one of these nations. Djibouti was chosen in April, 2009. Japanese personnel and material supporting the JMSDF deployment off Somalia are currently housed in rented space at the American base at Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion base. French troops in Djibouti are engaged in anti-piracy operations, training French troops for action in Afghanistan and keeping an eye on the volatile Horn of Africa region (Radio France Internationale, April 18).
The largest warships in the JMSDF are Guided Missile Destroyers, Destroyers and Helicopter Destroyers. Japan has been deploying a pair of destroyers on a rotational basis in the Gulf of Aden since last year. The naval deployment includes members of the Special Boarding Unit (SBU), a Hiroshima-based Special Forces unit patterned after the U.K.’s Special Boat Service (SBS).
The creation of a Japanese military base in Africa would have been implausible only a few years ago, as such deployments are in clear violation of Japan’s 1947 “Peace Constitution,” which forbids the maintenance of a Japanese military, the deployment of Japanese military forces overseas and participation in collective military operations, regardless of their purpose. With American encouragement during the Cold War, Japan began a conscious evasion of the Peace Constitution by creating “Self-Defense” Forces rather than a Japanese military. Japanese troops began overseas deployments in the early 1990s with non-combatant peacekeeping operations in Cambodia and Mozambique. After 9/11, new anti-terrorism and anti-piracy laws eased the transition to offshore operations. The JMSDF provided support to American forces in Afghanistan from 2001 to January 2010 and Japanese Ground Forces joined Coalition operations in Iraq in a humanitarian capacity in 2004. Technically, all members of Japan’s Self Defense Forces are classified as civilian civil servants and the naval deployment to the Horn of Africa is being characterized by the government as anti-crime operations rather than military operations.