Chad rebels fight gov't force in capital
Chad rebels fight gov't force in capital
By TOM MALITI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 2
NAIROBI, Kenya - Hundreds of rebels penetrated the
capital of Chad on Saturday, clashing with government
troops and moving on the presidential palace after a
three-day advance through the oil-producing central
African nation, officials and witnesses said.
Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman,
said groups of rebels gathered outside the capital,
N'Djamena, overnight before 1,000 to 1,500 fighters
entered early Saturday and spread through the city.
A leader of Chad's main opposition alliance, which is
unarmed and not associated with the rebels, said
shooting erupted after rebels entered the city around
8 a.m. but appeared to die down about two hours later.
Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh said about 12:45 p.m. that
there were no soldiers in his neighborhood and state
radio had gone 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," said Saleh.
The renewed fighting has led the European Union to
delay its peacekeeping mission in both Chad and
neighboring Central African Republic, which was due to
be up and running early next month, said Commandant
Dan Harvey, speaking at the EU military headquarters
in Paris on Friday. The deployment of the advance
force could be postponed for days, he said.
The force already has met repeated delays. It is aimed
at protecting refugees from the conflict-wracked
Sudanese region of Darfur, which borders Chad, as well
as protecting Chadians and Central Africans displaced
by turmoil in their own countries.
The new head of the African Union said Saturday that
the bloc would not recognize Chadian rebels should
they seize power.
"If the rebellion succeeds, certainly we will
excommunicate them from the African Union until
normalcy and democratic institutions are restored in
that country, if it has to happen that way at all,"
Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete told a news
The United Nations decided to temporarily evacuate all
its staff from Chad's capital because of the fighting,
said William Spindler, spokesman for the U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees.
The French and American governments told their
citizens to assemble in secure locations.
The U.S. Embassy said in a bulletin on its Web site
that any American citizens seeking evacuation should
immediately move to the embassy. State Department
spokesman Karl Duckworth said the embassy had
authorized the departure of nonessential personnel and
"At this time the U.S. is monitoring the security
situation closely," Duckworth said in a statement.
"The serious violence that has occurred has not been
directed at any U.S. personnel or facilities. We are
taking all appropriate precautions to ensure the
security of U.S. mission personnel and all American
citizens in Chad."
France's embassy in Chad sent messages over Radio
France Internationale telling citizens to head to the
Lycee Francais high school and two other locations in
N'Djamena, a French diplomatic official said on
condition of anonymity because government policy
barred him from providing his name.
A hotel operator at the Hotel le Meridien, about a
mile from the headquarters of President Idriss Deby,
said gunfire and explosions had been resounding
through the capital since 7 a.m.
The man, who would not give his name, said he had not
seen any rebels. The line went dead before a reporter
could get more details. Other phone lines were also
dead and the information could not immediately be
Rebels in more than a dozen vehicles drove past the
Libya Hotel, which overlooks the parliament building,
said a man who answered the telephone at that hotel.
"I saw more than 15 vehicles and they (the rebels)
were firing into the air," said the man, who also
would not give his name.
He said he also watched looters go into a police
station opposite the hotel, stealing chairs and
throwing papers on the ground.
Rebel forces have been advancing on the capital for
three days in about 250 pickup trucks after crossing
the border from Sudan, some 510 miles to the east of
Clashes broke out Friday morning near Massakori,
northeast of N'Djamena, and moved closer to the
capital to Massaguet, said Burkhard, the French
military spokesman. France-Info radio said helicopters
bombarded rebel positions.
Chad, a French colony until 1960, has been convulsed
by civil wars and invasions since independence, and
the recent discovery of oil has only increased the
intensity of the struggle for power in the largely
The most recent series of rebellions began in 2005 in
the country's east, occurring at the same time as the
conflict in neighboring Sudan's western region of
Darfur saw a rise in violence. One Chadian rebel group
launched a failed assault on N'Djamena, in April 2006.
The governments of Chad and Sudan repeatedly exchange
accusations the one is backing the other's rebel
Deby himself came to power at the head of a rebellion
in 1990; he has won elections since, but none of the
votes were deemed free or fair. He brought a semblance
of peace after three decades of civil war and an
invasion by Libya, but became increasingly isolated
and members of his own family have joined Chad's
U.N. officials estimate that around 3 million people
have been uprooted by conflicts in the region,
including the fighting in western Sudan's Darfur
region and rebellions in Central African Republic.
France sent more troops late Thursday to boost a
longtime military presence in Chad. About 1,500 French
citizens live in Chad, most in N'Djamena. French
President Nicolas Sarkozy called a meeting at the
Elysee Palace in Paris late Friday to discuss the
situation in Chad, his office said.
Air France canceled its scheduled daily flight to
N'Djamena on Friday because its personnel there "had
no access to the airport," an airline spokesman said.
The spokesman said it was not clear why access to the
airport was blocked.
Associated Press writers Angela Doland in Paris, Anita
Powell in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Alexander G.
Higgins in Geneva contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects Spindler's title to
spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees sted
Human Rights; minor edits throughout.)