Home | News    Monday 15 January 2007

Chad army, rebels dispute control of remote town

Jan 14, 2007 (N’DJAMENA) — Chad’s army said on Sunday it had dislodged rebel forces from a remote town they captured on Saturday and was pursuing them through the desert, but the rebels insisted they still held the town.

The rebel Union Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) occupied the remote northeastern town of Ounianga Kebir early on Saturday morning, opening up what a spokesman said was a new front designed to stretch government forces.

Confusion and contradictory statements are typical of an eastern insurgency against Chad’s President Idriss Deby which has seen a series of hit-and-run raids by various rebel groups, including an assault on the capital N’Djamena last April.

Violence in the east of oil-producing Chad has been fuelled by instability and ethnic killings spreading across the border from the neighbouring Darfur region of Sudan.

Chadian army Chief of Staff General Kossingar Bayana said there had been only customs officers and a few soldiers at Ounianga Kebir on Saturday when a treacherous soldier allowed rebel forces to occupy the town, but government reinforcements had arrived late on Saturday and retaken control.

"Our forces are in place in Ounianga. Since this morning the Chadian National Army is pursuing the rebels," Bayana told Reuters in N’Djamena on Sunday.

"On the rebel side there are two wounded and one dead. On the Chadian army side there are three wounded," he said.

Bayana said his troops were pursuing rebel fighters in the direction of Gouro in the rocky foothills of the Tibesti mountains, deep in the Sahara near the border with Libya.

But a UFDD spokesman said its forces still held Ounianga Kebir.

"The information coming from the Chadian government is completely false," said Makaila Nguebla, a UFDD spokesman based in Dakar, Senegal.

Nguebla said he was in regular contact with the UFDD’s communications chief Ali Moussa Izzo on the ground in Ounianga Kebir.

"We are going to spread the armed conflict through the entire Chadian territory," Nguebla said.

Rebel units have fought a cat-and-mouse conflict with government troops across the east, briefly occupying several towns and occasionally launching more serious, concerted attacks such as the raid on N’Djamena in the west of the country last April, in which hundreds of people were killed.

Deby, who first seized power in his own eastern-based rebellion in 1990 and was re-elected for a further term in office just weeks after the April attack, accuses the Sudanese government of helping the rebels trying to overthrow him.

Khartoum denies the charge, and in return accuses Deby’s forces of helping Sudanese rebels who have been fighting the Sudanese army and its militia allies since early 2003.

Mounted Janjaweed militia allied to the Sudanese government have attacked villages on both sides of the border in a conflict Washington says is genocide. Khartoum rejects the charge of genocide and has opposed efforts to deploy United Nations peacekeepers in Darfur to back a struggling peace process.

(Reuters)