Home | News    Saturday 2 February 2008

Rebels battle inside Chad’s capital - resident

February 2, 2008 (N’DJAMENA) — Chadian rebels fighting to overthrow President Idriss Deby battled their way into the capital N’Djamena on Saturday and were heading for the presidential palace, a foreign resident in the city said.

Rebel units from a column of 300 vehicles have closed in on the capital in their most determined offensive in two years. They fought with government troops on Friday in confused battles dozens of kilometres (miles) to the northeast of the city.

"Rebels are headed for the palace and are about two blocks from here. The rebels are winning," the resident said in an email sent from the compound of a western embassy in N’Djamena, adding she could hear heavy weapons fire.

The French and U.S. embassies in the central African oil producing country were preparing their nationals there for evacuation.

France’s diplomatic mission instructed its citizens to assemble at three designated sites in the capital. France on Friday reinforced its military contingent stationed in Chad.

The U.S. embassy asked those American nationals who wanted to be evacuated to come to the embassy immediately.

Chad says the rebels, who advanced rapidly this week across the country from the eastern border with Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, are armed and backed by the Sudanese government. Khartoum routinely denies such accusations.

In Addis Ababa, where African leaders have been meeting, the African Union expressed its concern over the escalation of the fighting in Chad, which has delayed the imminent deployment of European Union peacekeepers bound for eastern Chad.

"We are really, deeply preoccupied by the situation today in Chad," Jean Ping, the new chairman of the AU Commission, told reporters on the sidelines of the summit in Ethiopia.

Chadian Foreign Minister Ahmat Allam-mi accused Sudan’s government of launching the latest Chadian rebel offensive in a bid to block the deployment in eastern Chad of the EU peacekeeping force, which has a United Nations mandate to protect thousands of refugees from the conflict in Darfur.

"Since this (EU) force was announced, the Sudanese government has stepped up its attacks," he told RFI in Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the AU summit.

Chadian officials say Sudan has repeatedly backed offensives by several Chadian rebel groups, which have fought a hit-and-run guerrilla war for years against Deby, who himself seized power in a revolt from the east in 1990.

Khartoum accuses Chad in turn of backing Sudanese insurgents in Darfur.