President says Libya harbours Chadian mercenaries

Sat Apr 27, 2013 5:37pm BST

Chad's President Idriss Deby smiles as he arrives to launch the Darfur Regional Authority at El Fasher airport, February 8, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Chad's President Idriss Deby smiles as he arrives to launch the Darfur Regional Authority at El Fasher airport, February 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Chad's President Idriss Deby said on Saturday that Chadian mercenaries had set up a training camp in neighbouring Libya from where they could seek to destabilise his country, an accusation Libyan authorities denied.

Deby said during a radio interview that the mercenaries were free to roam around the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, hundreds of kilometres (miles) north of the Chadian border.

"I do not want the new Libya to serve as the source of any plot to destabilise Chad," Deby said. "I am asking Libyan authorities to take steps to ensure that Chad does not fall prey to another Libyan misadventure."

But Saleh Gaouda, deputy president of the National Security Committee in Libya's General National Congress who also represents Benghazi, denied any such camps existed.

"Libya ... does not permit military camps where foreigners can find shelter, and will not interfere in the internal politics of our neighbours," Saleh said.

"As a deputy for the city of Benghazi, I can say categorically that there are no such camps in the city."

Chad has had rocky relations with its northern neighbour, going to war with Libya in the 1970s and 1980s when former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi tried to seize the Aouzou Strip.

Ties improved after Deby, backed by Gaddafi, seized power in a 1990 military coup. Deby condemned NATO strikes against Gaddafi and was one of the last leaders in region to recognise the new Libyan authorities.

The former French colony of Chad, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been hit by humanitarian crises over the last decade exacerbated by rebellions in the east and south, drought in the arid Sahel region, and flooding.

In March, the Chadian rebel coalition UFR, who lay down their weapons in 2010, warned that they would take up arms again against Deby after he failed to enter talks with them after they agreed to stop fighting.

Chad has sent some 2,000 soldiers to fight alongside French troops to drive Islamists from remote northern towns, mountains and deserts regions of northern Mali.

(Reporting by Madjiasra Nako in N'Djamena and Ghaith Shennib in Benghazi; Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Mike Collett-White)