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Chad rebels withdraw from eastern town near Sudan

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Dec 2, 2006 (N’DJAMENA) — Chadian rebels opposed to President Idriss Deby withdrew on Saturday from an eastern town near the border with Sudan, a day after briefly occupying it, humanitarian workers said.

Chadian rebels, former soldiers who have deserted, stand in a small camp on the Sudan-Chad border on Feb 10, 2006.

Rebel fighters from a coalition aiming to end Deby’s 16-year rule in the oil-producing central African state withdrew early on Saturday from Guereda, 30 km (19 miles) from the border with Sudan’s Darfur region, aid workers said.

The rebels took their wounded from the hospital, overflowing with more than 80 government soldiers and rebel fighters from Friday’s clashes, and headed into the arid scrubland in a convoy of pickup trucks, they said.

On Friday, Chad’s government had denied that they had captured the town.

The rebels have launched a series of raids and offensives in eastern Chad this year, often striking with columns of pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns and rocket launchers.

Often they occupy towns and villages for a few hours before melting away into the desert or withdrawing to mountain hideouts.

Last weekend’s attack on Abeche, the most important town in eastern Chad, led to frenzied looting of shops and humanitarian stores.

Aid workers in Guereda said their warehouses were untouched but expressed fears of pillaging unless the Chadian military arrived soon.

Former colonial power France is giving the Chadian army logistical and intelligence support, provided by a French military contingent, including Mirage fighters stationed in the landlocked central African country.

Deby accuses Sudan of backing the rebels and has agreed in principle to a U.N. plan to deploy international peacekeepers in its east.

Sudan, which denies Chad’s charges and accuses Deby of supporting rebels in Darfur, said such a plan would not help stop the violence and called for a joint force on the border.

Salim Ahmed Salim, the African Union special envoy to Darfur, said on Saturday ending the crisis between Sudan and Chad was vital to peace prospects in the war-torn Darfur.

"For peace and security to be sustainable and durable in Darfur there is a need to have an understanding between the government of Sudan and the government of Chad," he told a news conference in Khartoum.

Experts estimate that about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million forced to flee their homes since the conflict in Darfur flared in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, charging it with neglect.

(Reuters)

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