Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, smarting from his diplomatic defeat at this month's African summit conference in Ethiopia, may be launching an offensive against Chadian President Hissein Habre, Arab and Western military analysts say.
Early stages of the offensive may already have begun. Chadian rebel forces reportedly were closing in on Faya Largo, a Habre stronghold, at time of writing. Chad's military charge in Paris reportedly has said Libya's Air Force is assisting the rebels with air strikes against government forces.
Arab and Western military analysts worry that if Libya mounts a massive invasion into Chad, northern Africa may become embroiled in renewed conflict. Both Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern about a buildup of Libyan troops and equipment on Libya's southern border with Chad.
Analysts say that in the event of a full invasion, Egypt and Sudan are likely to come to the aid of Habre, who drove the previous president, Goukhouni Woddei, out of Chad's capital in June 1982. They expect Egypt would send military transport planes to Sudan. And they do not exclude the possibility of direct Sudanese intervention in support of Habre.
Habre has accused Qaddafi of attempting to ''annex Chad, exploit its resources, and turn it into a base for foreign subversion.''
Woddei, now leading rebel forces, was said Thursday to have forces ''within a few dozen kilometers'' of Faya Largo - to which Habre's troops withdrew several weeks ago after a serious setback in fighting against the insurgents. Military analysts in Cairo confirm United States State Department reports that Woddei's troops are approaching Faya Largo from the north and the west.
Woddei told the Monitor earlier this month, ''We will now march on N'Djamena, '' the Chadian capital. He made this statement in Addis Ababa, after his ally, Colonel Qaddafi, failed to win appointment as chairman of the Organization of African Unity.
Earlier, Qaddafi had offered to recognize the Habre government in exchange for the OAU chairmanship and for admittance of Polisario rebels as OAU representatives of the contested Western Sahara.
French President Francois Mitterrand Wednesday warned that France will not tolerate foreign intervention in Chad. That warning, according to French diplomats, was addressed to Qaddafi although it did not mention him by name.
The US welcomed Mitterrand's remark, issuing a statement that said, ''We hope Colonel Qaddafi will heed President Mitterrand's warning, which we regard as a welcome reaction to Libya's apparent intensions.''
These sources add that ''the United States is virtually certain to intercede, possibly through Sudan.'' In February the US aircraft carrier Nimitz anchored off the Libyan coast and AWACS surveillance planes were sent to Egypt following an alleged Libyan military buildup against Sudan.