Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chad's Rebels Unify in Bid to Overthrow Deby

Chad's rebels unify in bid to overthrow Deby

Tuesday, January 20

LIBREVILLE (AFP) - - Chad's eight main rebel groups have joined together to form a unified insurgency which is preparing fresh military action against the government of President Idriss Deby, rebel leaders said Monday.

The leaders of the eight rebel groups signed a deal in Sudan, just over the Chadian border, to form the alliance called the Union of Resistance Forces, said one of its leaders, Ali Gueddei.

"Our objective remains the liberation of the Chadian people and to overthrow the dictatorship," Gueddei told AFP by telephone, adding that all the rebel chiefs participated in the signing at Hadjer Marfaine in Sudan.

A rebel offensive on the Chadian capital N'Djamena in February reached the gates of Deby's palace before being repulsed.

The offensive led by the main rebel group, General Mahamat Nouri's National Alliance, crumbled when the various rebel factions disagreed over who would take political power once Deby was overthrown.

Nouri told AFP on Monday that the formation of a unified rebel force was a "big step" towards the rebellion's stated aim of overthrowing Deby.

"It's historic. It's the first time that so many movements have been gathered in the one structure," said Nouri, the leader of the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD), one of the signatory movements.

"It's a big step. We agreed to create a new union. We are all capable of understanding each other to defend the general interests beyond the quarrels of people with egotistical interests."

The new movement has not yet named a leader, which must be done by consensus. "We hope to reach an agreement quickly," said rebel figurehead Nouri.

While bitter in-fighting has often been the rebellion's Achilles' heel, another leader, Hissene Ahamat El Hadj of the Union of Forces for Change and Democracy (UFCD), said that this time the rebels had found "common ground to unite against the regime".

"We will pool our military, human and political means together. We have all understood that alone, we can do nothing and therefore everyone has put their own ambitions aside," said Hadj.

"The United Resistance Forces (UFR) will allow us to better fight against the regime," said Timan Edimi, leader of the Rally for the Forces of Change (RFC), which in the past has often been at odds with Nouri's faction.

Differences between the rebel factions often stem from ethnic or tribal rivalries -- Nouri is a member of the Gorane tribe from northern Chad clan like former president Hissine Habre, while Erdimi is an ethnic Zaghawa, as is the incumbent Deby.

Observers believe the rebels may have lost some of their impetus since last February's surprise attack, which saw rebel columns streak hundreds of kilometres (miles) across the country to threaten the capital.

They point to the increasing international scrutiny of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, one of the rebels' key backers, since prosecutors petitioned the International Criminal Court to indict him for war crimes last year, which may have tempered his appetite for involvement in renewed conflict.

A military official with the European peacekeeping force EUFOR said Deby had also reinforced his army's air and ground forces while reorganising the country's defences to take account of last February's surprise attack.

"He should have bought robots for his new tanks and planes," said Erdimi dismissively, adding: "He won't find anyone to drive and fly them when we attack. I'm optimistic."

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