Hopes for a negotiated settlement to Chad's civil war received a serious setback this week as scheduled peace talks failed to open. French and Chadian officials here had expected President Hissein Habre to meet his rival, Goukhouni Woddei, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday for the first face-to-face meeting between the two men since French troops intervened in the conflict last August.
But on returning Saturday from final consultations in Ethiopia, Mr. Habre's foreign minister, Idriss Miskine, died. He was seen as a moderating force and more open to negotiations than his boss.
The next day Mr. Woddei arrived in Addis Ababa for the conference and was greeted with most of the pomp and circumstance of a head of state. An angry Habre, saying only he was entitled to such a high-level welcome, sent his interior minister to Addis Ababa in his stead.
Woddei refused to negotiate. The Organization for African Unity, sponsor of the proposed talks, tried to salvage them. But observers here doubt any negotiations will take place soon.
The impasse in Chad seems nearly total. French troops protect Habre in the south while Libyan troops shield Woddei in the north. Both the French and the Libyans refuse to attack each other.
The French hoped a military stalemate would induce Habre to end the conflict by bringing Woddei into his government. They were elated when Habre agreed to meet his rival without preconditions.
The failure at Addis Ababa has soured them. They say they have no plans to pull their troops out, but they suggest privately that, barring significant diplomatic movement in 1984, they may try to strike a deal directly with the Libyans.