Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chadian Conflict Between Rebels and Government Leaves Hundreds Reported Dead

Both Chad army and rebel group claim to have killed hundreds

November 26, 2007 | 8:12 PM ET
The Associated Press

Chad's army and a rebel group both claimed to have killed hundreds of fighters on the opposing side in fighting Monday in the country's east, an area in turmoil from domestic unrest as well as spillover conflict from the neighbouring Darfur region in Sudan.

The violence at Abougouleigne, about 96 kilometres east of the town of Abeche, left "several hundred [rebels] dead, several injured and several prisoners of war" in military custody, according to a statement from Chad's general staff.

"The fighting lasted four hours and ended in the total and definite annihilation of this column" of rebels, said the statement read on state radio and television by an unidentified officer.

He did not say if any Chadian soldiers were killed or injured, but said the statement was a preliminary report on the fighting.

A statement from one of Chad's rebel movements, the Forces for Development and Democracy, claimed its fighters killed more than 200 government soldiers.

"Loss of human life on the enemy side, more than 200 dead, including division Gen. Dirmi Haroun and Col. Guende Abdramane," said the statement posted a Chadian opposition website.

The Chad army did not give any figures of its own casualties, but rebels claimed that only 20 of its fighters were killed.

It was not possible to independently confirm either side's claims, but if proved close to accurate, the fighting would be the worst since a separate rebel group tried to take the capital in April 2006. At the time, the government said it killed over 300 rebels.

Chad has struggled in the face of several rebellions in the east, with some insurgents saying President Idriss Deby has not given enough support to their kinsmen in Darfur.

The government did not say which rebels were involved in Monday's battle.

Four rebel groups signed a peace deal last month involving President Idriss Deby's government. But one of four, the Union of Forces for Development and Democracy, expressed dissatisfaction last week with the pace of implementing the agreement and its fighters clashed with government troops over the weekend. There are no details about casualties from that fighting.

UN officials estimate about three million people have been uprooted by conflicts in the region, including the fighting in Darfur and the unrelated rebellions in Chad and Central African Republic.

Aid workers say recruiters for Chad's rebel groups and the government have visited refugee camps trying to lure children into their forces.

EU offers to send its force to Chad

The European Union has offered to send a 3,700-soldier force to Chad and Central Africa Republic to help protect refugees displaced by the four-year conflict in Darfur. The force has been held up, however, by a lack of air transportation and medical and supply units.

A meeting last week at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, failed to get more commitments, raising the possibility that the EU mission might not be able to deploy in December as planned.

Chad, a largely arid country that is one of Africa's newest oil producers, has been convulsed by civil wars and invasions since independence from France in 1960.

The most recent conflict is intertwined with the one in Darfur. Chad's president is from the same ethnic group as some of the African rebels who have rebelled against Sudan's Arab-dominated government, and each country accuses the other of supporting rebel groups on the other's soil.

Hundreds of army officers and members of Deby's own family defected in 2005 after they accused him of not providing enough support to the rebels in Darfur.

Once a fight between nomadic Arab tribes and settled African farmers, both the Darfur and Chadian conflicts have grown increasingly complicated as rebel groups splintered, formed new alliances and received defectors over the years.

Armed bandits have taken advantage of the lawlessness to attack civilians, and local politicians have used ethnic rivalries to fan the violence.

Instability has increased ahead of a planned UN-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur and the announcement of the EU mission for Chad and Central African Republic.

The EU force is widely seen as strengthening Deby's regime, which has also benefited from high oil prices that has allowed it to buy more weapons. In 2005, a referendum lifted constitutional term limits and Deby won a third term in elections boycotted by the opposition.

Chadian army clashes with rebels

Tue, 27 Nov 2007

The Chadian army said on Monday it had killed several hundred rebels in clashes close to the border with the strife-torn Darfur region, bringing to an end a one-month lull in fighting.

In a provisional toll broadcast on public radio, the army chief said there were "several hundred dead" and "several injured" among the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) rebels.

But the secretary general of the UFDD, Abakar Tollimi, disputed the army toll, saying only 17 rebels had been killed.

"We have killed more than 100 from among the army ranks," he told AFP by telephone from Libreville.

The heavy fighting ended after several hours with each side claiming to have routed the other.

The clashes took place about 10 kilometres from a major camp for refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan, aid groups said, in a zone where European Union peacekeepers are scheduled to be deployed.

UFDD leader Mahamat Nouri told AFP by satellite telephone the clashes took place between the main eastern city of Abeche and the frontier with Sudan.

The fighting came after this weekend's collapse of a month-old peace accord between the government, the UFDD and another rebel group, the Rally of Forces for Change.

Humanitarian workers at the Farchana refugee camp said they heard heavy artillery being fired.

Nouri accused President Idriss Deby Itno of ordering the attack on his fighters, saying: "Now that the fire has started, there is no more ceasefire."

His remarks appeared to contradict a joint statement from the rebel groups released on Monday in Khartoum in which they said they wanted to "save" the 25 October peace deal, which expired at midnight on Saturday.

In the statement, the UFDD, the RFC and the UFDD-F (UFDD-Fundamental) claimed "their readiness to renew with all the arrangements the mediators (Sudan and Libya) judge necessary to save the accord" to save lives.

At the same time, the rebels said they would hold the Chadian government responsible for whatever followed due to its "irresponsible attitude."

The government accused the UFDD and the RFC of breaking the preliminary peace accord, signed in Syrte, Libya, on 25 October, by crossing the Sudan border to attack the gendarmes.

Nouri and the RFC chief Timam Erdimi in turn accused Deby's government of failing to keep promises in the peace accord.

As has happened before when tensions were rising, Deby moved closer to the frontline last weekend, visiting Abeche, sources said.


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