Home | News    Thursday 13 April 2006

Chadian rebels continue their drive to unseat Deby

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April 12, 2006 (N’DJAMENA) — Chadian rebels on Wednesday continued their drive to unseat the president, moving on the capital in an onslaught that has spawned alarm across the international community.

Mohamat Nour

Even as Chad’s government claimed its forces had retaken a key crossroads town in the centre of the northern African state, rebels from the United Front for Change (FUC) were spotted only 100 kilometres (60 miles) from N’Djamena.

"It would seem that there have been clashes between rebel forces and Chadian soldiers" in a town near the capital, a high-ranking French military source at the defense ministry in Paris said, later indicating the rebels had stopped for the night.

Paris, which already has 1,200 soldiers in the country, on Wednesday ordered another 150 there in response to a worsening security situation that has triggered alarm from African and Western countries and comes just weeks ahead of presidential elections.

"The situation is uncertain", a Chadian military source told AFP on condition of anonymity, describing clashes between the rivals outside the capital, at Dourbali. But, he added, "Chad’s army has the advantage for now".

The FUC, which seeks to oust President Idriss Deby Itno, has stepped up its attacks in central and eastern Chad, occupying two UN-run refugee camps on Monday before seizing the crossroads town, Mongo.

Mongo, which lies on an intersection of north-south and east-west roads 400 kilometres east of N’Djamena, was captured Tuesday by hundreds of FUC fighters.

The government said Wednesday it had wrested back control but the report was dismissed by the FUC as "completely false".

Defence Minister Bichara Issa Djadallah told AFP Mongo had been "under the control of the Chadian army since 7:00 pm" (1800 GMT) Tuesday and that army helicopter had attacked rebel positions west of the town.

"The situation is under control," the minister added. "The rebels’ plan is suicidal, they are encircled everywhere."

But an FUC spokesman, Abdoulaye Abdelkerim, said: "Mongo has not been retaken by the Chadian army, it is completely false."

The rebels’ representative in France, former Chadian foreign minister Laona Gong, told French television late Wednesday that the FUC now controlled "more than 80 percent" of Chadian territory and that its men were practically on the doorstep of N’Djamena.

Inside the capital, while AFP saw Chadian army tanks and pick-up trucks mounted with gun turrets head off to meet the rebel offensive, the streets were calm and business continued.

Merchants kept market stalls open near the main mosque, one telling AFP the rebel challenge "doesn’t concern us", but foreign missions warned their nationals to keep indoors and many schools closed for the day.

International reactions denounced the rebel offensive in the oil-rich state, which borders Sudan’s violence-wracked Darfur region and plays host to hundreds of thousands of refugees from that civil war.

The African Union "firmly condemned" the FUC attacks, especially on UN-run camps housing refugees from Sudan’s neighbouring Darfur region.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "deeply concerned" by the rise in fighting and its spillover into the Central African Republic.

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, said France was "following with concern the current events".

A high-ranking military source in Paris said French troops would not take part in combat missions, restricting themselves to intelligence support to the Chadian authorities.

Washington said it was "deeply disturbed" by the situation and the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana voiced "profound concern".

The United States and the United Nations have decided to evacuate the bulk of their non-essential staff "in the coming days" from the capital, a diplomatic source said.

Deby is seeking re-election for a third term, but major opposition parties have pledged to boycott the May 3 poll, claiming they will be neither fair or transparent.

The president recently survived an assassination and coup attempt, and has suffered desertions and defections from his entourage since the end of 2005.

He claimed last month that the army had put an end to the rebellion in the east, but two weeks ago the FUC, an umbrella group of various rebel movements, led an attack on the town of Moudeina during which army chief of staff Abakar Youssouf Itno, a nephew of the president, was killed.

(ST/AFP)

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