Saturday, February 02, 2008

Chad News Bulletin: UFDD Coalition Seizes Capital; Deby Reportedly Held Up in Palace; Saudi Embassy Hit

Chad rebels seize capital after heavy fighting: military source

Sunday, February 3

NDJAMENA (AFP)--Rebels seized Chad's capital Ndjamena on Saturday after intense fighting with government forces, as President Idriss Deby Itno remained holed up in the presidential palace, a military source said.

"The whole of the city is in the hands of the rebels. It's down to mopping-up operations," according to the source.

Chadian rebel spokesman Abakar Tollimi said the president could leave his palace where he has been trapped by insurgent forces, if he so wishes.

"We suppose that Deby is inside. If he wants to leave we have no problem," Tollimi told AFP by satellite telephone.

"We control the situation, we control the city, there are some pockets of resistance," he said.

Tollimi said government troops were around the presidential palace and using heavy weapons against the rebels, who military sources said earlier were armed with machine-guns, assault rifles and rocket launchers.

One source said that government tanks had fired on the rebels at Deby's orders in a bid to break their grip.

France sent an extra 150 troops to the central African country and prepared to evacuate its citizens, while French Defence Minister Herve Morin said rebels were battling government forces as they closed in on the presidential palace.

Despite the reports, Chad's foreign minister told AFP that Deby was at the presidency and the situation was under control in the city.

"I spoke with the presidency 10 minutes ago and they assured me that the situation (was under) control," Amad Allam-Mi said in Addis Ababa, where he was attending an African Union summit, shortly before 1030 GMT.

Allam-Mi accused Sudan of masterminding the rebel offensive with the aim to stop the so-called EUFOR mission that is to protect refugees from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, just over Chad's eastern border, from deploying.

"Since the announcement that this European force will arrive, the Sudanese government has stepped up the number of attacks, to discourage the European Union," he told Radio France Internationale in an interview.

"Sudan does not want this force because it would open a window on the genocide in Darfur," he said, adding that Sudan was trying "to install a regime in Chad that will bow to it."

The EUFOR mission announced Friday a temporary delay in troop flights to Ndjamena, and an EU military spokesman said Saturday there were no plans to send members to Chad over the weekend as it was "still very unstable" on the ground.

Heavy fighting between some 2,000 rebels opposed to Deby and government forces raged in the capital on Saturday, a French army official said.

The rebels had entered the capital in trucks armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles.

Intense firing during the morning had died down by midday (1100 GMT), but a column of black smoke was seen rising from near the presidential palace.

The rebels, in olive-green battledress and white armbands, were roaring around in camouflaged pick-up trucks, witnesses said, and had been welcomed with joy in some districts.

Witnesses also said the main prison in Ndjamena had been stormed and inmates released, while security sources reported some looting had taken place.

The French foreign ministry strongly condemned "the attempt to seize power" in Chad by "armed groups from the outside".

"France supports the unity and stability of Chad. In this respect, it calls for the end of violence, the resumption without delay and the acceleration of efforts to achieve regional stability, particularly through the African Union and the United Nations," a ministry statement said.

France also said the latest events should not prejudice the European Union and African Union missions to the region to protect civilians from Darfur.

"We remain very concerned by the safety of local civilian populations, refugees and displaced, for the protection of whom the international deployments in eastern Chad and Darfur remain indispensable."

French troops have been deployed in Chad since 1986 under the codename Sparrowhawk, and were on Saturday reinforced with a combat unit of extra troops in response to the current situation, bringing to 1,450 the number permanently posted there.

French forces have been assisting the government with logistics and intelligence but have not been allowed to intervene militarily in the fighting.

The EUFOR Chad-Central African Republic mission has a UN Security Council mandate to back up, for one year, some 300 UN police officers sent to monitor camps for Darfur refugees and internally displaced persons.

About 234,000 Darfur refugees, along with 179,000 displaced eastern Chadians and 43,000 Central Africans also uprooted by strife and rebellion in the north of their country, are housed in camps in the region.

A spokesman for French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had had a long conversation with his Chadian counterpart, and held two emergency meetings on the situation.

France also warned its nationals to remain indoors and prepared to evacuate them. The country has 1,500 citizens in Chad, a former French colony, with 85 percent of them in the capital.

The offensive -- the biggest since April 2006 -- comes after rebel leaders Timan Erdimi, Mahamat Nouri and Adbelwahid Aboud Makaye joined forces in mid-December after a peace pact with Deby fell apart.

African Union leaders meeting in Addis Ababa said the body "strongly condemns" the rebel attacks and "demands that an immediate end be put to these attacks and resulting bloodshed".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed his concern at the fighting, and the world body has evacuated around 160 non-essential staff from Ndjamena.

Chad rebels fight inside capital

Thousands of rebels have entered Chad's capital N'Djamena and say they have surrounded the presidential palace.

But Chad's ambassador to Ethiopia said the capital had not fallen and that President Idriss Deby was "fine" in his palace.

There has been intense gunfire in the city centre, and a witness said army tanks were burning in the streets.

The French Foreign Ministry condemned the attempt to "seize power by force", blaming "armed forces from outside".

The rebels began their advance on N'Djamena from near Chad's eastern border with Sudan earlier this week, and both the Chadian and Sudanese governments support rebels in each others' territory.

'Windows shaking'

A rebel spokesman, Abakar Tollimi, told AFP news agency that the rebels controlled the city, although there were some "pockets of resistance".

He said that the president was able to leave the palace if he wanted to. Earlier he had said Mr Deby would fall within hours.

France said it was preparing to evacuate its citizens and called on people to stay indoors.

French Defence Ministry spokesman Christophe Pazouk told the BBC the rebel force in the city consisted of several thousand men, and that they had entered the city surprisingly easily.

Government forces were defending the presidential palace and several other places, he added.

A witness in the city told the BBC that 30 army tanks had been set on fire, the town was under the rebels' control and they were firing into the air in celebration.

There were reports of outbreaks of looting, and of residents cheering on the rebel forces in some areas of the city.

"From the third-floor we can see smoke coming from about a kilometre and a half away near the presidential palace," US aid worker Katie-Jay Scott told the BBC.
June 2005 - Constitutional changes approved allowing president to stand for third term
April 2006 - Hundreds killed as rebels fight government troops on outskirts of N'Djamena
May 2006 - President Deby wins election boycotted by opposition
January 2008 - EU approves peacekeeping force to protect

"The gunfire and artillery shakes the windows of the hotel."

A bomb hit the residence of Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Chad, killing the wife and daughter of an embassy employee, the Saudi foreign ministry said.

The African Union called for an end to the rebels' advance, and said it would expel Chad from the organisation if they took power.

"The assembly strongly condemns the attacks perpetrated by armed groups against the Chadian government and demands that an immediate end be put to these attacks and resulting bloodshed," the AU said in the final declaration of its summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Friction with Sudan

The BBC's Stephanie Hancock, recently based in Chad, says insecurity has been the hallmark of Mr Deby's 17-year rule.

But the tide began to turn in 2005 when he changed the constitution so that he could run for a third term in office, she says.

This prompted mass desertions from the army, and the situation was made worse by the accumulation of oil wealth by Mr Deby and his entourage.

There is also tension with Sudan. Chadian officials say Khartoum is nervous about the deployment of EU troops in Chad and a joint AU/UN force in Sudan's western region of Darfur - both with the mandate of protecting civilians affected by fighting in Darfur.

French involvement

About 150 French troops have arrived to help evacuate some 1,500 expatriates, the vast majority of whom live in N'Djamena.
Unified Military Command includes:
Union of Forces for Democracy (UFDD) led by Mahamat Nouri
Rally of Forces for Change (RFC) led by Timane Erdimi
UFDD-Fundamental led by Abdelwahid Aboud Mackaye

AFP said a French army airbus was preparing to fly to Chad to take part in an eventual evacuation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy held a meeting to discuss the crisis late on Friday night with senior ministers and military figures.

The BBC's Alasdair Sandford, in Paris, says France is directly involved in the crisis.

It dominates the EU force bound for Chad, whose deployment has been delayed because of the fighting. Some 100 troops Austrian and Irish troops had been due to arrive last Thursday.

Under a 30-year-old agreement, the French military gives logistical and intelligence support to Chad's government.

But late last year, one of the rebel groups, the UFDD, declared a "state of war" against French and other foreign forces because it said they were "bringing diplomatic, strategic and logistical aid" to the president.

Chad's Foreign Ministers Ahmat Allami has accused Sudan of instigating the rebel advance in order to stop the deployment of the EU force:

"Sudan does not want this force because it would shine a light on all the genocide that is taking place in Darfur orchestrated from Chadian territory," he told the BBC.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/02/02 17:19:36 GMT

Rebels enter capital of Chad

By Lydia Polgreen
International Herald Tribune
Saturday, February 2, 2008

DAKAR, Senegal--Rebels entered the capital of Chad on Saturday and gun battles erupted around the presidential palace, according to Chadian officials and news reports.

A French military spokesman, Colonel Thierry Burkhard, told The Associated Press in Paris that 1,000 to 1,500 rebels had entered the capital, Ndjamena.

But Chad's ambassador in Washington, Mahamoud Adam Bechir, said in a telephone interview that the rebels that reached the capital were a small group that split from the main column of rebels headed toward the city.

The group circumvented counterattacks by the Chadian military and stole into the capital, Bechir said, but was being chased by the elite Presidential Guard.

"They were able to infiltrate the capital, panic the population, fire at the presidency and give the impression there is fighting going on at the presidency," Bechir said. "But everything is under control. President Idriss Déby is in the palace. The Chadian military forces are chasing the insurgents."

The capital was plunged into confusion, with sporadic gunfire echoing through the streets while residents hunkered down in their homes, waiting for news. Bechir said the airport had been closed to civilian flights and the mobile phone networks had been shut down to hamper rebel communication lines.

The United Nations refugee agency decided to evacuate all staff from Ndjamena, according to The AP, which also quoted an opposition leader, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, as saying the government radio had gone off the air.

The U.S. and French governments took steps to protect their citizens in Chad.

France, which is the former colonial power in Chad and maintains about 1,100 troops there, added 150 more to help protect its citizens, according to French officials. The U.S. State Department posted a message on its Web site urging Americans to seek safety at the embassy.

The fighting has forced the European Union to delay its deployment of a 3,700-troop peacekeeping force to protect refugees living on borders of Chad and Central African Republic. Both countries have become increasingly caught up in a regional conflict that began in Darfur but has destabilized its fragile neighbors.

Bomb hits residence of Saudi ambassador to Chad, killing wife and daughter of embassy staffer

The Associated Press
Saturday, February 2, 2008

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia--A bomb hit the residence of the Saudi ambassador to Chad on Saturday, killing the wife and daughter of an embassy staffer taking shelter from the fighting between the government and rebel forces, according to a foreign ministry statement.

The statement carried by the official Saudi press agency quoted an unnamed official as saying that all members of the Saudi mission to Chad had gathered with their families at the ambassador's home as they waited to be evacuated because of the violence.

"During the ongoing armed confrontations in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, the residence of the Saudi ambassador was hit by a bomb, which led to the death of the wife and daughter of one of the embassy staff," said the statement.

The statement did not specify the nationalities of those killed or how many people were present at the ambassador's residence at the time of the bombing.

Hundreds of rebels penetrated Chad's capital Saturday, clashing with government troops and moving on the presidential palace after a three-day advance through the oil-producing central African nation, according to officials and witnesses.

Attacks Force UN Refugee Agency to Evacuate Staff From Town in East

UN News Service (New York)
31 January 2008

The United Nations refugee agency today evacuated most of its staff from its office in a town in eastern Chad after a series of armed attacks this week on the agency and other aid organizations operating in the troubled region.

Five vehicles belonging to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), its non-governmental partners and Médecins Sans Frontières Suisse have been stolen at gunpoint in the past 72 hours, while the UNHCR compound in Guereda was entered by armed men on two nights this week.

Serge Malé, UNHCR's representative in Chad, said the agency was "left only with one choice, much to our regret, which is to relocate most staff out of the Guereda area, as we cannot continue to perform our activities in favour of refugees."

Four UNHCR staff and 28 local and international staff with the agency's partners were flown to the regional centre of Abeché today, while a convoy of eight vehicles also travelled from Guereda so that the few remaining vehicles in the town were not attacked.

A minimum amount of staff will remain to ensure there is basic support in the two refugee camps, Mile and Kounoungou, operating in the area. The two camps - host almost 30,000 refugees from Sudan's war-wracked Darfur region - have been officially handed over to refugee leaders to manage while UNHCR staff numbers are reduced.

The most serious incident occurred in the early hours of Wednesday, when two armed men wearing military uniforms jumped the wall of the UNHCR compound and threatened the guards with guns so that they can steal two vehicles.

Early this morning an unknown man armed with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle entered the UNHCR guesthouse before being chased off by staff members of the agency's local partner.

Tensions between the Chadian National Army and opposition forces have been building in Guereda and the wider region since Monday, while the problems in the town have been exacerbated by ethnic clashes between Zaghawas and Tamas.

Jorge Holly, head of the UNHCR field office in Guereda, said the local authorities do not have the necessary means to protect agency staff or other aid workers.

"In this area, we have a state of complete impunity," he said. "Guereda is getting very vulnerable. If humanitarian workers are not around, it is impossible to provide adequate protection to the refugees. But the situation here is getting out of control and we also have to protect our staff and partners."

The security situation is also tense inside the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, in the southwest of the country, with the international staff of both UN agencies and NGOs advised to stay at home.

Eastern Chad is currently home to about 240,000 Sudanese living in 12 official refugee camps, which have sprung up since the Darfur conflict began more than four years ago.

Meanwhile, about 5,800 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) have arrived in several border villages in southern Chad in the past few weeks, fleeing attacks by zaraguinas or cattle rustlers in the north of their homeland.

Last year the Security Council authorized the establishment of a multi-dimensional UN presence in Chad and the CAR, including a peacekeeping mission to be known as MINURCAT, to try to stabilize the region.

In a related development, a meeting of troop and police-contributing countries for MINURCAT and two other missions - the hybrid UN-African Union force in Darfur (UNAMID) and the force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known as MONUC) - was held at UN Headquarters in New York today.

General Per Five, a military adviser with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), told the meeting that UNAMID is still lacking helicopters, a key capacity for the mission to operate successfully.

Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute said it was vital to move ahead with the deployment of UNAMID as MINURCAT will not succeed if the mission in neighbouring Darfur is failing.

In Addis Ababa, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned against cross-border instability. "The situation in Chad and the continued military conflict there should not spill over negatively to the peace and security in Darfur," the deployment of peacekeepers or the ongoing political process in Darfur, he told a press briefing.

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