France steps up its diplomatic efforts to coax Libya to leave Chad

While some progress in the intensive French efforts to find a diplomatic solution were reported in this week's Franco-African summit, a settlement still seems far away.

The French had hoped that a declaration recognizing Hissein Habre as Chad's legitimate ruler and calling for a Libyan withdrawal would result from the summit. But the 24 African heads of state meeting in the eastern French town of Vittel could not agree on such a statement.

Nevertheless, President Francois Mitterrand reported ''advances.'' He was referring to reports that Mr. Habre had agreed to hold direct talks with rebel leader Goukhouni Woddei. Before this, Mr. Habre had refused to sit down with Mr. Woddei, insisting that the Libyans were his only suitable negotiating partners.

Mr. Habre's change of heart followed a similar change of heart on the part of Mr. Woddei, who recently announced he was ready to negotiate despite the presence of French troops in Chad. Until this announcment, the rebel leader insisted that the 2,500 French troops in the country leave before he would meet Mr.Habre.

The French feel these moves show that their strategy is working. Without firing a shot, their troops have stopped the Libyans and the rebels from moving southward. Both sides now know they cannot win a military victory, French diplomats explain, so they must negotiate a settlement.

''It's a different game now,'' said a close advisor to President Mitterrand. ''Things are starting to move.''

The diplomats outline a rosy scenario. Eventually pressure from black African states will shame Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi into leaving, with a simultaneous French departure providing the necessary face-saving cover. A peacekeeping force sponsored by the Organization of African Unity would then step in to keep the warring Chadian factions apart while they negotiate a pact of national reconciliation.

Nice as this solution sounds, the failure of the Africans to reach agreement at the Vittel summit make it seem like wishful thinking. Independent Chad watchers see no quick settlement.

Observers at the French Institute for Foreign Relations, for example, think Colonel Qaddafi finds the present stalemate to his advantage.

His occupation of the northern half of Chad is cheap, an analyst says. Many observers here expect Qaddafi to sit tight, letting the French broil in the desert sun while Habre's government slowly crumbles from internal dissension.

''Qaddafi is playing for high stakes,'' the analyst said. ''He won't retire without getting something in return.''

Thus, any solution might have to give pro-Libyan forces some power in Chad.

Despite protestations that the Chadians must negotiate their own settlement, the French may just be pushing such an idea behind the scenes. Reports circulating here say Habre is being pressured to accept rebel ministers in his government.

So far, he has rejected any such proposal. In an interview published here last week, he expressed displeasure with the French refusal to attack the Libyans and restated his fears that the French may be willing to accept a de facto partition of his country.

Habre continues to call for direct talks with the Libyans and refuses to negotiate with rebel leader Woddei. Given Habre's personal hatred for Woddei, any possibility of arranging a coalition government containing the two men seems slim.

Will the French then discard Habre? Some accounts here have the French and Libyans quietly seeking a compromise ''third Chadian'' to form a new government acceptable to both sides. The French deny this.

But they do not deny that they are uncomfortable with Habre, holding him largely responsible for heating up Chad's simmering civil war in the mid-70s.

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