Rebels enter Chad's capital, fight around palace


Verified Military
Verified Military
Oct 24, 2006
Rebels enter Chad's capital, fight around palace
02 Feb 2008 11:31:14 GMT
Source: Reuters

</SPAN>By Moumine Ngarmbassa

N'DJAMENA, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Chadian rebels seeking to overthrow President Idriss Deby battled their way into the capital N'Djamena on Saturday and fought government troops around the presidential palace, diplomats and residents said.

The sound of machine gun and heavy weapons fire could be heard in the capital as foreign embassies advised their citizens to stay in doors and take cover. Fighting was reported to be taking place around the presidential palace and the parliament.

"I can confirm they (the rebels) are in the city," a foreign diplomat told Reuters. The situation was confused and mobile phone networks were not working.

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

Rebels in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns had closed in on the capital of the central African oil producer in their most determined offensive in two years. They had fought confused battles with Deby's troops on Friday northeast of the city.

The French and U.S. embassies had started grouping their nationals for evacuation. But after the rebels entered the city, the French mission suspended the operation and told its citizens to stay at home, under cover, and keep away from windows.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said he had discussed the situation with Deby. France reinforced its military contingent in its former colony on Friday.

"The battle for N'Djamena has started," a Chadian opposition Web site said on Saturday, adding that civilians were fleeing the capital southwards towards the border with Cameroon.

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.

Deby himself seized power in a revolt from the east in 1990. He won elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006. Government forces repelled a rebel attack on the capital in 2006, when hundreds of people are thought to have been killed.


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.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told reporters at the summit that the leaders of Chad and Sudan had been invited to Tehran for talks.

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.

Allam-mi said Khartoum wanted to stop the European force from focusing international attention on what he called the "genocide" in Darfur, where Sudanese government forces and allied militia have fought rebels for five years.

International experts say some 200,000 people have died in Darfur and 2.5 million have been uprooted from their homes. Khartoum says the West is exaggerating the conflict.

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.

Khartoum accuses Chad in turn of backing Sudanese insurgents in Darfur. (Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in Addis Ababa and Pascal Fletcher in Dakar, Writing by Pascal Fletcher)