- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

ALONG THE CHAD-SUDAN BORDER — Many of the weapons used by Chadian rebels who nearly overthrew the government this month — from the ubiquitous Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to more advanced artillery pieces mounted on Toyota Land Cruisers — come from China, probably indirectly through Sudan.

Chadian President Idriss Deby and international relief groups were quick to accuse Sudan of promoting the attack two weeks ago on the capital, N’Djamena, by about 350 rebels, who fought to within a few miles of the city before being turned back. But China’s insatiable appetite for oil to feed its economic growth gave Beijing an interest in the outcome as well.

The Chadian rebels’ weapons, viewed by a reporter during a rare visit to their bases along the 800-mile Chad-Sudan border, were traced to Chinese state-owned arms manufacturers, with the aid of an arms-monitoring-group based in Manchester, England, that used a sampling of serial numbers on the munitions.

“Chinese firms from the People’s Republic [of China] have been providing a range of large and small arms to African armed forces regardless of their persistent grave human rights violations, especially to countries with oil deposits, such as Sudan, or valuable natural resources, such as Liberia,” said Brian Wood, the head of arms research at Amnesty International. “Rebel groups in Africa have also received Chinese arms, for example, in Angola and” the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the Chinese government’s regulations governing arms exports, any sales to foreign countries must “not upset regional or global peace, security and stability” and “must be for the legitimate self-defense of the recipient country.” The acquisition of these weapons by the Chadian rebels contravenes both criteria.

An official at China’s arms-control department referred all questions to a spokesman who did not return phone calls.

China is one of the largest suppliers of arms to Sudan, Africa’s largest country, which has tense relations with Chad. And China is heavily invested in Sudan’s oil sector, with more than 10,000 workers and $3 billion spent on its oil sector since 1999.

Relations between Chad and Sudan have been soured in part by the Chadian president’s provision since 2003 of arms, ammunition and safe passage through Chad for the Sudan Liberation Army and other rebels fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region. The Sudanese government appears to be retaliating by providing similar aid to the Chadian rebels.

Chad, besides being last on Transparency International’s 2005 corruption index, is Africa’s newest petro-state, with proven recoverable oil reserves estimated at about 1 billion barrels. But China, whose thirst for oil has made it a presence in Sudan and other African oil states, so far lacks a foothold in Chad. Chad maintains diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, or Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of China.

It does have a relationship, however, with the leader of the Chadian rebels, Muhammad Nour, who worked as a consultant to various Chinese oil companies exploring business opportunities in West Africa in the 1990s, and maintains close relations with his former clients, whom he will not identify. Mr. Nour’s brother, a close adviser, recently returned from a three-week trip to China, which he said was “for health purposes.”

In an interview at his military encampment set along a dry riverbed near the border, Mr. Nour rejected the notion that his fighting force had any direct relationship with China.

“There is no relationship between us and the Chinese state. But they are being prudent,” the rebel leader said.

Joshua Eisenman, a fellow in Asia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, said China could be driven by its rivalry with Taiwan for friendly votes at the United Nations and other international organizations.

“China will encourage and seize any homegrown opportunity to further isolate Taiwan in Africa,” he said. “I doubt Beijing would seek to topple a government just to undermine Taiwan; but if a Taiwan-friendly African government falls, it’s icing on the cake for Beijing.”

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