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Chad rebels say destroyed army helicopter

January 19, 2008 ( N’DJAMENA) — Chad’s rebels said on Saturday they had shot down an army helicopter gunship which attacked their positions in the east of the landlocked central African country, near the border with Sudan’s Darfur region.

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Chadian rebels, former soldiers who have deserted, stand in a small camp on the Sudan-Chad border on Feb 10, 2006.

The rebel Alliance for National Resistance (ANR), one of several groups of insurgents operating along the Sudanese border, said in a statement it had destroyed the Russian-made MI-24 helicopter near the village of Beda this week using a SAM-7 short-range, ground-to-air missile.

A spokesman for President Idriss Deby’s government was not immediately available for comment.

The rebels said Chadian army helicopters had not taken to the skies since then, eliminating one of the government’s main tactical advantages.

Deby, who seized power in a 1990 uprising from eastern Chad, blames Khartoum for supporting and sheltering the rebels who have fought a cat-and-mouse war against his forces for years.

Tensions flared earlier this month when Sudan accused Chadian aircraft of bombing a village within its borders.

Chad’s government said it had attacked rebels, but did not specify if they were inside Sudan. It reserved the right to pursue the insurgents if they sheltered on Sudanese soil.

Eastern Chad is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the four-year-old conflict in Darfur, as well as large numbers of internally displaced Chadians.

A European Union peacekeeping force is due to deploy in eastern Chad next month with a mandate to protect civilians. Rebels have warned they could attack the force if it meddles in Chad’s internal political situation.

(Reuters)