By Pascal Fletcher
DAKAR, April 12 Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is steering Chad's opposition to a U.N. military peacekeeping force in its violence-torn east, where civilians are being killed in droves as a proposed U.N. deployment stalls, analysts say.
They say Gaddafi, a critic of Western democracy and self-styled champion of African nationalism, has stepped up pressure on his southern neighbour, Chadian President Idriss Deby, to resist a planned U.N. military force for eastern Chad.
The country's desolate east, caught up in violence that combines marauding armed raiders, domestic insurgency and ethnic conflict, has become a mirror of the neighbouring Sudanese region of Darfur, itself torn by war since 2003.
Deby, who seized power in Chad with Libyan support in 1990, disappointed Western governments in late February by objecting to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's recommendation for a well-equipped, strong contingent of U.N. soldiers to be deployed in the east.
The Chadian leader said he preferred a civil police force in a stance regional experts say showed the hand of Gaddafi.
"Libya's primary objective is to ensure an international military force does not deploy," said Colin Thomas-Jensen, Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank.
The stalling over the Chad U.N. force now mirrors the situation in Sudan's Darfur, where the Sudanese government has long been resisting international pressure for U.N. peacekeepers to bolster a struggling African Union military contingent.
"Gaddafi wants no Western force in his backyard," said another Chad expert, who declined to be named.
The Libyan leader, who likes to wear a small outline map of Africa on his suits, has taken the lead in trying to broker peace between feuding neighbours Chad and Sudan, whose forces clashed on the border this week.
Humanitarian groups say the delay in getting U.N. blue helmets into Chad and Sudan is costing lives by the day.
"While the U.N. protection force (for Chad) is being negotiated and debated, people are being killed in their hundreds," David Buchbinder, a researcher with U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
"I say deploy something now," said Serge Male, head of U.N. refugee agency UNHCR operations in Chad.
"To do nothing is absolutely unacceptable," he added.
"CARROT AND STICK"
U.N. officials say raids into Chad by Sudanese Janjaweed militias killed up to 400 people more than a week ago and one official described "apocalyptic" scenes of razed villages.
Analysts said Gaddafi was using arms shipments as leverage on Deby, who has been fighting to stay in power in the face of multiple hit-and-run offensives by rebels in the east.
"Gaddafi uses the carrot and the stick -- the carrot is supplying weapons to Deby, the stick would give them to the rebels," said the Chad expert who requested anonymity.
A late February summit hosted by Gaddafi to keep the peace between Chad and Sudan, which also involved Eritrea, agreed "observation mechanisms" along the Darfur frontier.
The Chad expert said a small number of Libyan military personnel were on the Chadian side and there was a proposal to post joint Libyan/Eritrean forces on both sides of the frontier.
Analysts said Deby was also wary of international pressure, accompanying the proposed U.N. military deployment, for him to negotiate with his rebel foes. "I'm not sure he's willing to pay that price of political dialogue," ICG's Thomas-Jensen said.
Some humanitarian workers in eastern Chad say they fear a robust U.N. military force, without clear rules of engagement, could risk inflaming rather than controlling violence.
"So far the parties don't see us as a threat, but if the U.N. intervention is read as taking sides, we could start becoming targets," one relief worker said.
The No. 2 U.S. State Department official, John Negroponte, is visiting Sudan, Libya and Chad in the coming days to press for solutions to the Darfur crisis. (Edited by Alistair Thomson and Elizabeth Piper; Dakar newsroom +221 864 5076))