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Shultz Finds African Backing for U.S. Support of Chad

January 10, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

DOUALA, Cameroon — Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who was welcomed to Cameroon on Friday by jungle drummers and lines of chanting women, said President Paul Biya urged the United States to continue its logistical support for Chad in its fight against Libyan troops in northern Chad.

Shultz's visit to Cameroon, which shares a border with Chad and has provided port facilities for the landlocked desert country, dramatizes U.S. opposition to Libyan control of much of the northern part of Chad.

Encouraged by recent successes of the government of Chad's President Hissen Habre in the long-running conflict, Shultz said Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's forces may soon be driven out of the country.

"Chadian forces that had allied themselves with Kadafi are leaving him and switching sides," Shultz said. "That deprives him of fighting manpower, and it deprives him of any claim to support within Chad."

Poor Battlefield Showing

Moreover, Shultz said, on the battlefield "the Libyan forces haven't been doing well."

He said Chadian surface-to-air missiles have forced Libyan warplanes to fly at such high altitudes that they are ineffective against most targets.

"Kadafi may soon find he is unable to stay in Chad," Shultz said.

A senior U.S. official accompanying the secretary of state told reporters that earlier this week when Habre's forces overran the oasis of Fada, which was occupied by Libyan troops, they "destroyed as an operating military organization" a 1,000-man Libyan contingent.

The official said the victory was significant because the Fada force represented one-seventh of Libya's estimated 7,000 troops in Chad.

"This was the first time the Libyans were routed out of a position they held," the official said.

Libyan Planes Captured

The official said Habre's forces also captured a number of armored vehicles and several Italian-made SF-260 light attack aircraft, which were taken in such good condition that they were flown to the capital of N'Djamena a few days later.

Another U.S. official said, "The name of the game now is to convince Kadafi that this (Chadian operation) is a loser."

He added that "military pressure is a central element" of the effort to persuade Kadafi to withdraw.

"He (Biya) is concerned about foreign forces in a neighboring country," Shultz said. "He is interested in seeing us continue with the kind of logistical support that we have been giving. He was reassured by my statement that we are keeping very careful track of what is going on and we want to be helpful to the government of Chad and are working with the French."

Chad and Cameroon are former French possessions.

Shultz spent only three hours and 15 minutes in Cameroon on his way from Senegal to Kenya, but Biya pulled out all the stops to highlight the talks. The president journeyed to Douala, the port city that is the country's economic capital.

Gets Colorful Greeting

When Shultz arrived, several hundred stalwarts of Biya's ruling party were at the airport in boldly printed dresses and shirts featuring the president's portrait.

To a rhythm set by drummers in tribal costume, the party militants chanted a song of welcome with the refrain, "Vive Biya; Vive Cameroon."

A senior U.S. official said Cameroon has provided diplomatic support to Habre's government. He said most U.S. and French supplies for the Chadian army are shipped through Cameroon.

The official conceded that some other African leaders were more circumspect in their support because of concern over possible Libyan retaliation.

"Libya's ways of bringing pressure on West Central Africa are many and varied," the official said. "People stand up to be counted when there isn't much risk involved."

Shultz has said U.S. assistance to Chad will be limited to logistical support. He said no U.S. combat forces or advisers will be sent.

President Reagan signed an order last month authorizing up to $15 million in emergency military aid to Habre. Shultz has said that if more aid is needed, it will be considered.

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