The Sudan-Chad Proxy War

The current leaders of Sudan and Chad, Presidents Omar al Bashir and Idriss Déby, are two officers who took power by force at about the same time, 1989 and 1990 respectively, the latter with the former's support. They managed to maintain friendly relations for more than twelve years despite their different alignments: Bashir was the president of an Islamist regime hated by the US while Déby was an ally of the West keen to solidify relations with Washington (as well as Exxon, which runs the Chadian oil project). Their initial good relationship survived numerous attempts by opposition groups from both countries to find rear bases on the other side of the 600 km long Sudan-Chad border.
Things started to change with the Darfur uprising in 2003, in particular after the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked the El Fasher airport in North Darfur in April, humiliating the Sudanese Armed Forces. Those early rebels were led by Beri (Zaghawa and Bideyat, Déby's tribe) commanders, including Chadian army officers that Déby had been unable to prevent from defecting. The Chadian president then tried and failed to prevent more Beri from joining or supporting the Darfur rebellion. In return, in particular since 2005, Bashir started to support Chadian groups seeking rear bases and arms in Khartoum. This proxy war culminated with rebel attacks on both capitals: N'Djaména in April 2006 and February 2008; and Khartoum in May 2008.
After May 2009, however, as rebel raids on both sides of the border encountered unusual resistance, and as both regimes failed to effectively unite their neighbour's opposition groups into efficient coalitions, Khartoum and N'Djaména began an earnest rapprochement. Since August 2009, Khartoum has begun to move the Chadian groups away from the border. Chad reciprocated by demanding the withdrawal of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) from its territory and strongly pressuring JEM to sign a peace agreement, before expelling it (including the movement's chairman Dr. Khalil Ibrahim) from Chadian territory. Finally, in July 2010, Sudan ordered four main Chadian armed opposition group leaders to leave its territory, sending them to Qatar. Déby visited Khartoum in February 2010, and Bashir flew to N'Djaména in July. This last visit earned Chad-a signatory of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court and thus obliged to arrest Bashir-strong criticism from the West.
As of mid-2010 it appears that both countries have given up proxy arming against each other to concentrate on other important events: the Sudanese referenda on self-determination for the South and Abyei scheduled for January 2011 and the presidential election in Chad scheduled for the same year. Whether and how long the Sudan-Chad 'reconciliation' will last remains uncertain. Indeed, opposition groups and others on both sides of the border hope the proxy war will resume. More importantly, the rapprochement is far from sufficient to solve either the Darfur conflict or Chad's democratic deficit. These two crises still have the capacity to cause regional destabilization.
For a chronology of the Sudan-Chad proxy war, click here. Click here for a chronology of the Darfur Peace Process.
Updated July 2010