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Cablegate: Ndjamena 001: An Eerie Normalcy Returns

VZCZCXRO0478
OO RUCNESB RUEHGI
DE RUCNESB #0001/01 0481550
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 171550Z FEB 08
FM USDEL FEST TWO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0001
INFO RUEHYD/AMEMBASSY YAOUNDE IMMEDIATE 0001
RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 0001
RUEHGI/AMEMBASSY BANGUI 0001
RUEHKH/AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM 0001
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0001
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0001
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 0001
RUFGAID/USEUCOM INTEL VAIHINGEN GE
RUCQIES/SOCOM IESS MACDILL AFB FL
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0001
RHEFDHP/DIA DHP-1 WASHINGTON DC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0001
RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 0001
RUEHNM/AMEMBASSY NIAMEY 0001
RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 0001
RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 0001
RUCNESB/USDEL FEST TWO 0007

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FEST TWO 000001

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PREF CASC SU CD
SUBJECT: NDJAMENA 001: AN EERIE NORMALCY RETURNS

1. Summary: Life is slowly returning to what passes for normal
in N'Djamena as Chadian citizens emerge from hiding or flight to
view the newest scars on this historically war-torn city. The
U.S. Embassy transferred operations from a temporary site at the
French base to the Chancery and other facilities on February 13.
The Emergency Action Committee (EAC) met February 16 and
confirmed the Embassy's current security posture. End summary.

2. The U.S. Embassy in N'Djamena, Chad marked the transfer of
operations from a temporary site at the French base to the
Chancery on February 13 with a small flag-raising ceremony. The
Embassy is on Ordered Departure; twenty one staff members
(including a six-man Marine Guard Detachment) are on the ground.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizen Services
only; visa applicants are being directed to Paris or Yaounde.
No lives were lost or injuries reported among Embassy American
or Locally Engaged Staff (LES). The first order of business is
to survey damaged property (full report septel). At least four
Embassy residences were looted and vandalized and are
uninhabitable. The Chancery and the Ambassador's residence
sustained limited machine gun, mortar and RPG damage. Until
classified systems are up and running, all classified
communications will be via EACT (cable address: USDEL FEST TWO).

3. Elsewhere in the city, a brisk clean-up has removed much of
the debris from the heavy fighting of February 2-3. All dead
bodies have been picked up. Nonetheless, the signs of war are
still very evident. Burnt and overturned vehicles line the
streets. Almost every window of the landmark Central African
Bank's multi-story glass-fronted building was damaged. Numerous
buildings along the main commercial street, Rue Charles de
Gaulle, show signs of bombardment and are scorched by fire. The
trees which formerly graced the street lie toppled. Many
Chadian government offices were sacked, including the Ministries
of Health, Education and Foreign Affairs. A visit to the MFA
showed room after room of devastation -- papers tossed to the
four winds, office equipment such as air conditioners and
computers deliberately vandalized and left unusable. Reportedly
even the Minister of Foreign Affairs' arm chair was stolen.
International organizations such as UNICEF and CARE were also
looted. The French Cultural Center was completely destroyed -
a major loss to Chad's cultural patrimony. Looting appears to
be the work of local residents; no claims of rebel looting have
been made.

4. According to the French Ambassador, French forces in Chad
evacuated 1,800 citizens belonging to 66 different
nationalities. The French Embassy (which also sustained damage
during the fighting) did not oblige employees or family members
to depart, but in the event, almost all family members requested
to leave. The French School is scheduled to re-open on March 10
after an extended mid-winter break. Enrollment is expected to
drop considerably, as many French children (including the son of
the Ambassador) will not return.

5. The Government declared a 15 day State of Emergency for the
entire country on Thursday, February 13. A 12:30 am -06:00 a.m.
curfew is in place. The main news sources -- Radio France
International and BBC World Service -- can only be picked up on
short wave. Some local radio stations are broadcasting. Air
France has resumed limited service. Humanitarian air flights
servicing the refugee camps in eastern Chad continue, but are
being staged from Yaounde rather than N'Djamena.

6. Chadians - including many LES family members - are trickling
back from Kousseri, Cameroon, which, lying a short distance from
N'Djamena, across a bridge over the Chari River, was the
location of choice for evacuation (although many simply hunkered
down in their residences). Remarkably, casualties were
relatively low. According to Thomas Merkelbach, International
Red Cross (ICRC) Director, the death tally is probably about
500, with 120 picked up in the streets, and the remainder
disposed of either by the Chadian Army (ANT) or the rebels. Of
those bodies picked up in town, about two thirds were combatants
- the remainder civilians, of which many were probably looters
shot by the ANT. Merkelbach thought that wounded probably
numbered 1,000. He said that there were some 120 prisoners and

FEST TWO 00000001 002 OF 002


that the ICRC had been allowed full visitation rights.

7. Embassy security posture: The Emergency Action Committee
(EAC) met February 16 and confirmed the Embassy's current
security posture. A curfew of 7:00 pm - 6:00 am is in effect for
Embassy staff. Travel through the city is limited to official
business, in convoy where possible, and should be notified by
radio to Post One.
NIGRO

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