French officials have hope for talks to settle Chad's civil war
Despite a seeming deadlock, the French see some signs of a Chad solution emerging. Officials warn against excess optimism, but the Organization for African Unity has scheduled a meeting for Jan. 9 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between President Hissein Habre and rebel leader Goukhouni Woddei.
If the meeting does take place, it will represent a big step forward. Until now, Mr. Habre has insisted he be recognized as Chad's legitimate president before sitting down with Mr. Woddei. The coming encounter will be without preconditions, and there are hopes it will produce some sort of ''national reconciliation'' government that will permit simultaneous withdrawal of French and Libyan troops.
''We think things are moving,'' a top French official said recently. ''Once the meeting is held, things will be easier.''
Big question marks hang over this scenario, however. The battlefield situation has not changed since last August, when the French dispatched several thousand troops to draw a ''red line'' across the center of the country. The ensuing stalemate has the Libyans and Woddei continuing to occupy the north while the French continue to protect Habre in the south.
Even so, the French seem to believe that outside forces will push the two Chadian belligerents to a solution. The French think Libya is tiring of spending huge sums to keep its troops occupying the northern half of the country.
At the same time, the French have impressed on Habre that they will not drive the rebels from the north. They have also made it clear that they want a political solution in 1984 and are counting on Habre to be flexible.
Another factor may make Habre conciliatory. Reports reaching France, confirmed here by Chadian exiles, are that armed groups have risen up in the south against Habre's rule. As a northerner, Habre has never had a strong claim to the south's allegiance. Now he may feel pressure to settle with Woddei before a full-fledged insurrection topples him.