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CHAD: Unravelling the meaning of latest ex-rebel revolt

N'DJAMENA , 19 October 2007 (IRIN) - Scores of former rebels supposedly being integrated into the army have fled their base at the eastern town of Goz Beida, where tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians have settled, after battling the army on 18 October.

“Thirteen of the rebels’ vehicles crossed the border and were found in a village in Sudan", Chad’s chief of army staff Daoud Soumaine announced on 19 October.

Around 12 soldiers from the former rebel group, the Front uni pour le Changement (FUC) were killed and another six injured, he said, adding that one government soldier was killed and three were injured.

The former FUC troops officially joined the army in December 2006 after their leader, Mahamat Nour, negotiated a peace agreement in which he was appointed Chad’s minister of defence.

But it is unclear how many of his troops remain loyal to him.

There are various versions of how the latest fighting started, an international official who routinely requests anonymity, told IRIN. “Some say the army, [loyal to President Idriss Deby] tried to forcibly disarm the troops loyal to Nour,” the diplomat said. “Some say it was just a misunderstanding between the leaders of the two sides.”

Tensions have been building for months, he added. “The big worry now is how the battle in Goz Beida will be interpreted in the north-east area of Dar Tama around the town of Guereda,” the diplomat said.

Dar Tama is home to both the Tama ethnic group, who mostly comprise the former FUC troops and the Zaghawa who dominate among troops loyal to President Deby. The two ethnic groups have had a long and troubled history. “That’s where there could be a full-blown ethnic conflict,” the official said.

The government declared a state of emergency in the east and north of the country on 16 October.

Goz Beida was calm the day after the fighting there except for military helicopters hovering over head, one local aid worker told IRIN. “We should have been evacuated this morning but I think it has been postponed,” he said.

The government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor told IRIN the events of 18 October are “closed”. “It does not constitute a challenge to the peace accord signed with the former rebels to disarm and integrate… It is not useful to be alarmist about a small incident".

Nour, the former FUC leader and now minister of defence, issued a statement on 19 October demanding that his former fighters immediately integrate with the government forces. "All violations will be considered insubordination... All soldiers who do not reintegrate will be considered deserters," he said.

French presence

The local aid worker in Goz Beida said French troops were in the town “including French senior officers.”

An international official said he could confirm the information. “I know the French army has been in Goz Beida for at least a week although I can’t say whether they were directly involved in yesterday’s battle.”

The French troops known as the ‘Eléments Français au Tchad’ or EFT have been in Chad, a former French colony, for more than two decades.

In November a new EU/UN peacekeeping mission is set to arrive in Chad. It will mostly be comprised of French troops, although there are conflicting reports on whether the EFT will merge with the new peacekeepers, or leave and be replaced by a different section of the French army, or remain in Chad as a separate force.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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