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Military Base 60 Miles Inside Libya Destroyed, Chad Reports

September 06, 1987|From Times Wire Services

N'DJAMENA, Chad — Government troops drove 60 miles into Libyan territory Saturday and destroyed the air and ground base at Matan as Sarra in Libya's southeast, the Chadian military command reported.

The official Libyan news agency, JANA, acknowledged that Chadian troops had attacked Libyan territory and said they struck at the "civilian Sarra airport."

Hours earlier, officials in Chad and the Chadian Embassy in Paris had said Chadian troops repulsed a Libyan ground offensive against the town of Ounianga Kebir, in northern Chad about 130 miles south of the Libyan border. The officials said the troops were pursuing the Libyan invaders northward from the town of Ounianga Kebir toward the border.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse said Western intelligence services in N'Djamena confirmed the taking of Matan as Sarra by the Chadian forces. Maps show that Matan as Sarra is about 60 miles north of the border with Chad.

A spokesman for Chad's military command said the Libyan base was "entirely in the hands" of Chadian troops. He spoke of the base's "total destruction," and added that the Libyan casualties were "very heavy."

The Libyan agency said the Chadians attacked a civilian airport. But military experts said the air base is purely military, one of four bases in southern Libya often used for long-range bombing missions in Chad. Libyan bombing of targets in northern Chad has occurred almost daily since early August.

They said Soviet-made Tupolev bombers and MIG combat jets were probably at the base, which was reported to be heavily defended.

Libyan troops had occupied much of northern Chad until a series of desert offensives that began last January culminated in the Chadian capture of Aozou, the main town in the disputed Aozou Strip along the Chad-Libya border. The Libyan forces mounted a counterattack and retook Aozou on Aug. 28.

Libya claims the Aozou Strip, a 43,000-square-mile territory under a pre-World War II treaty between France and Italy, then the colonial powers. Libya annexed the territory in 1973. The internationally recognized border shows the Aozou Strip as Chadian territory.

On Friday, a high Chadian government official said the Libyans were preparing a widespread offensive in northern Chad, striking both from Libya in the north and from Sudan to the east. The official media in Tripoli denied the report Saturday.

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