Heavily armed rebels have crossed into eastern Chad from Sudan, the government said Thursday, as a bid for a new peace deal between the two neighbours appeared to be faltering.
"Sudan on Wednesday launched several heavily armed (rebel) columns against Chad. These mercenaries crossed the border in the area of Moudeina," a government statement read on national radio alleged.
A observer of the military situation in the area told AFP that a group of rebels had crossed the border in 25 or more pick-up trucks on Wednesday to enter Moudeina, north of the border town of Ade.
"Yesterday we spotted 25 pick-up trucks, but there seemed to have been more of them" he said. Each of these four-wheel-drive trucks can seat 10 to 15 people.
The French defence ministry in Paris said Thurday that French military forces deployed in Chad have "not for the moment detected" any rebel columns crossing from Sudan.
General Mahamat Nouri, leader of the main Chadian rebel network told AFP in a telephone interview that there was no new offensive by his alliance, which some six weeks ago swept across northern Chad from bases in Sudan to penetrate the capital before being repulsed.
"There is no new offensive, nothing is going on," he said.
Nouri accused the Chadian government of looking for a pretext to avoid signing a peace deal with Sudan, which was to have been concluded on Wednesday in Dakar by Deby and his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Beshir.
But Beshir failed to turn up, pleading a headache, and the signing was put off until Thursday, ahead of a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
An aide to Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said the signing ceremony was still planned. Previous accords between the two leaders have never held.