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Rebels move in on Chad capital

(CNN) — Heavy gunfire was heard in Chad’s capital Ndjamena Saturday as rebel fighters entered the city from several directions and moved on the presidential palace, reports say.

A high-ranking German diplomatic source told CNN by telephone that the country’s parliament building was also being ransacked. It was unclear if the building was being looted by locals or rebels opposed to the government forces, the source added.

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

There was no information about the whereabouts of Chad’s President Idriss Deby.

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

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.

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 the foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, and the defense minister Hervi Morin.

He said that all efforts were being taken to ensure the safety of French citizens in the country.

The reports came a day after the French Defense Ministry said it was sending 140 soldiers from Gabon to N’Djamena as a precaution to protect French citizens amid renewed fighting between government troops and rebels.

A ministry spokesman said because of rebel activity in the former French colony, the decision was made to reinforce the garrison of French troops stationed in the city to ensure the security of French citizens.

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.

The situation was brought to a head by tensions that have been brewing in the area since Monday between opposition forces and the Chadian National Army. She also referred to clashes between two ethnic groups, the Zaghawas and the Tamas, as affecting the local population.

Security concerns for refugees in Guereda remain high.

If humanitarian workers are not around, it is impossible to provide adequate protection to the refugees, said Jorge Holly, head of the UNHCR field office in Guereda But the situation here is getting out of control, and we also have to protect our staff and partners.

The U.N. refugee agency has 12 refugee camps, six field offices and over 200 employees in eastern Chad.

Asked when UNHCR staff would return to the camps, Rehl said, We need to see how the situation moves, we are having security meetings. We have to see what happens in the political context. Tomorrow this could change. This is typical of Chad.
Rebels move in on Chad capital – found here.

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February 2, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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