Home | News    Thursday 12 June 2008

Chad rebels say on offensive

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June 12, 2008 (GOZ-BEIDA) - Chadian rebels opposed to President Idriss Deby said on Thursday they had launched a new offensive in eastern Chad and called on France and Europe to press Deby to agree to a political settlement.

Abderaman Koulamallah, a spokesman for the Chadian rebel National Alliance, said four rebel columns had moved "deep inside" Chad in the eastern Dar Sila region and intended to advance westwards towards the capital N’Djamena.

"Our objective is to topple Deby," he told Reuters.

Koulamallah, whose Democratic Union for Change (UDC) group belongs to the insurgent alliance, said the rebel columns had come under attack from government helicopters and had fired back, shooting down a helicopter.

"We plan to carry the war to the interior of the country," he said, adding he was speaking by telephone from France. He said he was in contact with rebel military commanders.

There was no immediate reaction from the Chadian government. A European Union military force (EUFOR) is deployed to protect refugees, civilians and aid workers in eastern Chad, including the Dar Sila region, where U.N.-run camps are located.

Irish EUFOR troops based at Goz-Beida in the Dar Sila region said they had received reports of a clash at Modeina, 70 km (40 miles) northeast of Goz-Beida.

"The action is between the UFDD (rebels, part of the National Alliance) and the Chadian air force but we have no details on casualties or damage," Commandant Stephen Morgan, spokesman for the Irish 97th Infantry Battalion, told Reuters.

"We have no assets in the area ourselves so we can not confirm these reports first hand," he added.

CALL FOR TALKS

Koulamallah said the rebels were prepared to call off their offensive if France and the European Union forced Deby to agree to all-inclusive peace talks with his armed opponents and civilian opposition parties in the oil-producing country.

"If France and the European Union get involved to guarantee an accord, we are ready not to go to war," he said.

The rebels, whom Chad’s government says are backed by Sudan, have fought a guerrilla war for more than two years to try to overthrow Deby. They denounce him as dictatorial and corrupt.

Chadian rebel units attacked the Chadian capital N’Djamena in early February, besieging Deby in his palace. Several hundred people were killed in the fighting.

The rebels later withdrew from the capital after the government and military of former colonial power France came out strongly in support of the Chadian president, who himself seized power in an eastern revolt in 1990.

A fresh Chadian rebel offensive against Deby had been widely expected since Sudanese Darfuri insurgents attacked the Sudanese capital Khartoum in May. Both countries accuse each other of supporting rebel groups hostile to each others’ governments.

France has military aircraft and troops stationed in Chad under a bilateral defence cooperation treaty, under which it provides intelligence, logistical and medical support to the Chadian government.

In their statement on Thursday, the Chadian rebels called on France not to involve itself directly in the conflict but to act as mediator.

(Reuters)

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