French president makes a brief stop in Chad

PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy was to travel to Chad yesterday as rights groups urged France not to "cover up" for President Idriss Deby Itno, accused of having a hand in the disappearance of opposition members.

PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy was to travel to Chad yesterday as rights groups urged France not to "cover up" for President Idriss Deby Itno, accused of having a hand in the disappearance of opposition members.

The president was to make a brief stopover in Ndjamena en route to South Africa, some three weeks after France helped Chadian forces repel an attack from rebels backed by Sudan.

With his approval rating at an all-time low at home, Sarkozy is undertaking the Africa trip with his wife, Carla Bruni, who is making her first trip abroad as France's new First Lady.

Sarkozy was expected to press Deby to set up a commission of inquiry into the disappearance of Ngarlejy Yorongar and Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, his spokesman David Martinon said.

He was also expected to sit down for dinner with the French troops, who earlier this month provided fuel, food, aerial intelligence and Libyan ammunition to the Chadian army to help them push back the rebel offensive.

The visit comes as troops from a French-led EUFOR mission to protect refugees from Sudan's troubled Darfur region are arriving in eastern Chad and the Central African Republic.

US-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged France this week to press Deby to shed full light on the fate of the two opposition deputies who went missing on February 3.

The visit to SA will be Sarkozy's first to an English-speaking African country, and underscores his administration's desire to establish strong ties with the continent's economic powerhouse.

President Thabo Mbeki had a frosty relationship with his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who had criticised South Africa's peace initiatives in Ivory Coast. - Sapa-AFP

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