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Sudan Tribune

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Chad rebels shot down government plane

Nov 28, 2006 (N’DJAMENA) — Chadian rebels said on Tuesday they shot down a government military plane with a captured ground-to-air missile in fighting near the eastern town of Abeche, which they briefly seized at the weekend.

“The plane was shot down by a missile launched by our forces. It was attacking our positions,” Mahamat Nouri, leader of the rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD), told Reuters by satellite telephone.

Chad’s government said a reconnaissance plane had failed to return to its base, but did not confirm it had been shot down. “We’re searching for the two pilots today,” Communications Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor told reporters.

He repeated Chadian accusations that neighbouring Sudan was backing rebels opposed to President Idriss Deby who have launched a series of rapid but inconclusive military offensives from the east this year. Khartoum denies these charges.

“Today we are in a state of war with forces that come from Sudan. We consider ourselves attacked by Sudan,” Doumgor said.

Foreign diplomats said they believed the plane shot down was one of two aircraft, thought to be Italian-made Marquetti fighters, which Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had made available to Chad’s military in recent days to counter the rebel threat.

UFDD spokesman Ali Ahmat told Reuters the plane was shot down during fighting with government forces 40 km (25 miles) west of Abeche. He said a government helicopter had also been shot down, but that claim could not immediately be confirmed.

Abeche is the hub of a massive international aid effort to help more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled violence in neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur region.

Civilians looted aid warehouses at the weekend and aid agencies are still working under tight security directives.

“The security situation outside Abeche remains uncertain, with reports of rebel presence as well as the Chadian military. Movements are also reportedly occurring north of Abeche in the Am-Zoer area, on the road to Guereda,” U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in briefing notes on Tuesday.

CAPTURED MISSILE

Nouri, a former defence minister who has turned against Deby, said his men shot down the plane at around 6 a.m. (0500 GMT) with an anti-aircraft missile.

“It was a SAM-7 missile which we took from Abeche at the weekend,” Nouri said.

He said the aircraft had been bombing UFDD positions in the region of Abeche, the main town in eastern Chad which the UFDD occupied for 24 hours on Saturday before government forces re-established control.

Doumgor said the rebels had pulled back to Am-Zoer, about 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Abeche.

The weekend attack on Abeche triggered panic in the capital N’Djamena, hundreds of kilometres (miles) to the west, after France, the former colonial power in Chad, warned its citizens a rebel convoy was advancing towards the city.

But France later played down the threat, and the government said the capital was in no danger.

Abeche is a major base for Chad’s armed forces and is also used by a French military contingent, including a squadron of Mirage fighters, stationed in the central African country.

(Reuters)