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Defeat in Chad leaves Qaddafi down but not out

Despite a stinging defeat suffered by Libyan troops recently in Chad, Egyptian officials, Western military analysts, and Libyan dissidents here do not believe that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is in imminent danger of losing control of his government and Army. ``Vietnam was not the end of the American regime,'' a high-ranking Egyptian official said. ``Qaddafi's in a weak position. It's certainly a major military defeat. But it doesn't mean the end of [his] regime ....''

``Qaddafi is in control in Libya,'' adds Abdel Hamid Bakoush, a former Libyan prime minister living in Egypt. ``The seeds of trouble have started. But it takes time.''

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These comments play down the view, cited in recent newspaper reports, that the defeats experienced by Libyan forces in Chad this year have made conditions riper than ever for Colonel Qadaffi's removal. Late last month, Qaddafi's troops were routed from Wadi Doum, a major air base in northern Chad, and from the town of Faya Largeau. In January, Chadian troops loyal to President Hissein Habr'e captured Fada, the administrative capital of northern Chad. Qaddafi has supported Chadian rebels' war against Mr. Habr'e's government since 1983.

The sources cited a combination of factors which, in their view, make it unlikely that Qaddafi is in major internal danger.

One such factor, Libyan dissidents and Egyptian officials claim, is that the French, who have been aiding and training Habr'e's forces, do not want the Libyans totally routed from Chad, because they believe this would endanger the Qaddafi regime.

``The French and Italians are not in favor of a change of regime in Libya,'' said the Egyptian official. ``[The French] prefer a weak Qaddafi to an unknown.''

In 1935, France and Italy negotiated a treaty that gave the Aozou Strip (42,000 square miles) in northern Chad to Libya. The treaty was never ratified but Libya annexed the strip in 1973.

Military analysts say Qaddafi could eventually reverse his losses. ``Qaddafi's a great chap for lying low when things go bad,'' says a Western military official. ``He could forget about Chad for a bit and then come back.''

Qaddafi is already trying to recoup. Egyptian sources claim he is trying to win back as an ally Goukhouni Woddei, a former Chadian prime minister and later a Libyan-backed rebel. Last October, Mr. Woddei's forces turned against Libya and joined with Habr'e.

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The Chadian forces' performance this year has caught Western diplomats in the region by surprise. Despite this, Western military sources view the Chadian victory at Wadi Doum as a turning point. It is the first time in 20 years of war that government forces have controlled their own country so far north.

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