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Chad: Rebel attack being beaten back

(CNN) — Chad’s ambassador to the U.S. has insisted that a rebel uprising is being quashed by government troops amid reports that at least 400 rebels had entered the city and had broken in to the presidential palace.

Heavy fighting was reported around the presidential palace, the defense ministry and the official radio station building as rebels streamed into the capital from several directions, a high-ranking German diplomatic source and security sources told CNN.

Security sources in N’Djamena said at least 400 rebels troops were in the city.

The sources added that they had received varying reports about the whereabouts of Chad’s President Idriss Deby — some indicating he was holed up in the presidential palace under heavy guard, and other reports claiming he has fled to nearby Gabon. Watch as chaos sweeps Chad

Chadian Ambassador to the U.S. Mahamoud Adam Bechir told CNN, however, that the government was in control of the situation and that rebel forces were fleeing the city.

Bechir claimed the rebels, whom he characterized as mercenaries, were abandoning their vehicles and their military uniforms in an attempt to avoid capture.

A high-ranking German diplomatic source told CNN earlier that that gunfire could be heard ringing around the city. Although the gunfire had since died down, the official said, the country’s parliament building was now being ransacked, the source said.

It was unclear if the building was being looted by locals or rebels opposed to the government forces, the source added.

However, the German source said witnesses told him that rebels were already in the palace and there were fires around the district where the government is headquartered.

A worker at the Kempinski Hotel in the capital told CNN by phone that the rebels had faced little resistance as they came into the capital.

The staff member, who gave his name as Tigalta, said: This morning I was in my room, and I saw many rebel groups entering the city in Japanese cars. They were not fighting. They entered the town freely. They found the population welcoming them — the people of the town.

A leader of Chad’s main opposition alliance, which is unarmed and not associated with the rebels, told The Associated Press the shooting started after rebels entered the city around 8 a.m. but appeared to die down two hours later.

Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh said about 12:45 p.m. that there were no soldiers near him and state radio was off the air.

At the moment we are not hearing any firing … The rebels are in the city. Civilians are in the streets. They are watching what is happening, Saleh told AP.

The French and U.S. embassies were working on preparations to evacuate their staff and citizens, but fighting near the airport prevented anyone from leaving by plane, he said.

Growing conflict

Chad’s president, who himself seized power in a rebel uprising in 1990, has been contending with a growing conflict centered in eastern Chad.

The rebellion in the east is closely linked with the civil war in neighboring Sudan’s Darfur region.

Around 240,000 have crossed the border to Chad to flee the fighting in Darfur, where Sudan’s government and government-supported Arab militias have been accused of widespread atrocities against the civilian population.

Both the Sudanese and Chadian governments have accused one another of fomenting the violence in their countries by giving support to the rebels groups.

David Martinon, a French presidential spokesman, said the French leader Nicolas Sarkozy had held a long telephone conversation with President Deby Saturday.

In a statement, Martinon said that Sarkozy held an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the unfolding situation in Chad.

The spokesman said the French leader held talks with members of his Cabinet including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defense Minister Hervi Morin.

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission said most of its 300 hundred staff had already been moved to Cameroon and that a small contingent of peacekeepers remained at a hotel in the capital under the protection of French forces.

The French government said it opposed the actions of the rebels. You cannot try to use force to change a sovereign government, said Nicolas Princen, a spokesman for the office of the French president.

The French army is preparing a plane in Paris to be flown out to Chad to repatriate French citizens in the capital, according to Princen.

French nationals have been asked to assemble at several points across the city, he added.

The French Defense Ministry said Friday it was sending 140 soldiers from Gabon to N’Djamena as a precaution to protect French citizens after fighting escalated.

The French move came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he was deeply concerned at the resumption of fighting in Chad.

Ban’s spokesman said he deplores any action that could worsen the already grave humanitarian situation especially in eastern Chad where the international community is actively engaged in activities to provide relief and secure the voluntary, safe and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic.

On Thursday, after a series of armed attacks in the eastern Chadian town of Guereda, four staff members with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and 28 local and international staff members of UNHCR’s implementing partners were relocated to Abeche, about 300 miles to the southwest. Local authorities do not have the necessary means to protect the aid workers, UNHCR said.

Only essential UNHCR staff remain in Guereda for the time being, operating in conjunction with refugee leaders at two camps, Mile and Kounoungou, where up to 30,000 Darfurian refugees reside.

Speaking from Abeche, UNHCR spokeswoman Annette Rehl described Guereda as a place without law and order (where) people act with impunity. She cited car-jacking as the most pressing security concern there: They need cars and telecommunications equipment.
Chad: Rebel attack being beaten back – found here.

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February 2, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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