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CHAD: Rebel fronts multiply in the east

NDJAMENA, 3 December 2007 (IRIN) -

After a week of intense fighting between the Chadian army and the rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) in mountainous Hadjar Marfaine near the Chad-Sudan border, another rebel group has opened a second front farther north.

The Rally of the Forces for Change (RFC), led by Timane Erdimi, has crossed into Chad from Sudan, the government announced at a closed meeting with representatives of the international community in the capital Ndjamena on 1 December.

The rebels have been seen heading east towards the town of Guereda, a major humanitarian hub for assisting tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians.

Aid workers at Guereda are reportedly making preparations to evacuate but have not begun to do so, said a humanitarian source.

One international official said he could verify that on 1 December a column of RFC combatants quietly passed the town of Iriba, near the border, where there is a large refugee camp, then headed for Biltine, one of two regional capitals in the east. Later in the day army helicopter gunships were seen above the village of Oum Chalouba north of Biltine defending a garrison from the rebels.

Various reports suggest that the number of dead and wounded soldiers and rebels on the two fronts could be in the thousands. Three civilians were also killed in crossfire according to a humanitarian source, but there are no reports of fighting taking place in areas with large civilian populations, according to an international security official.

“If fighting with the same intensity were to take place in towns and villages it would be disastrous,” he said.

Other fronts

Fighting could break out elsewhere in the east. Another rebel group, the Chadian National Concord (CNT), may be poised to attack government troops south of the current fighting around Daguessa, one source told IRIN. “Negotiations between the local governor and the CNT there appear to have broken down,” the source said. “The CNT’s forces are currently in Sudan but we wouldn’t be surprised if they soon cross into Chad to engage the army.”

In addition, there are reports of defections by members of the former rebel United Front for Change (FUC) who had been in the process of integrating into the army. Their leader, Mahamat Nour Abdelkerim, had been defence minister until 1 December when the government announced his removal.

Nour has since taken refuge in the Libyan embassy in the capital Ndjamena. Security in the capital has increased at night with troops setting up spot checkpoints.

The FUC posed a grave danger to the government of President Idriss Deby in April 2006 when they launched an attack on Ndjamena that was stopped only after French army stationed there intervened, according to many sources. Deby later made Nour defence minister on the condition that he integrate his FUC fighters into the army.

Now that Nour has been sacked the question is what his men will do: The minister of foreign affairs Ahmad Allam-Mi said at a press conference on 1 December that a few had been caught providing the UFDD rebels with stolen fuel and military equipment for their recent offensive but that most remained loyal to the army.

Yet an anonymous military officer at the town of Adre on the border with Sudan said on 2 December that former FUC fighters there were deserting. And according to another source hundreds of the FUC in Guereda have also defected. “President Deby recently went to Guereda to try to convince the FUC to stay in the army but he failed,” the source said.

It remains to be seen whether the many ex-FUC in towns in the south-east, in particular Goz Beida and Am Timan, will stay, the source said. “Their current status in the army is ambiguous at best.”



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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