On Monday Chadian rebels aiming to overthrow President Idriss Deby captured Biltine, a small city located 700 kilometers east of the capital N'Djamena as France maintained it would not intervene to support the beleaguered Chadian president.
“We’ve been holding the city for several minutes, there was no resistance. The Chadian armies were not expecting us” said Ali Gueddei, spokesman for the national alliance, responsible for regrouping various rebel factions, confirmed to the AFP Other wise, while précising that rebel strategies don’t involve keeping Biltine, the spokesman predicted the imminent capture of Mongo, another town located only 400 km from the capital N’Djamena.
On Sunday, rebels swept through Am Dam, a small town 700 kilometers east of N'Djamena, in their westward march toward the capital. Rebel troops have since moved into the Chadian town of Am Timan Monday, according to a Chadian rebel spokesman.
The rebels have been meeting with little government resistance along the way, according to spokesmen for the various rebel factions that form the National Alliance group.
Speaking to FRANCE 24 Monday, Brahim Moussa, a National Alliance spokesman based in London, called on Deby to step down. “We call on him to leave the presidential palace,” said Moussa. “His time is running out and we think that the population, the people of Chad, need a new era, a new government,” he added.
“Our objective is N'Djamena,” Mahamat Assileck Halata, a National Alliance spokesperson told FRANCE 24. “We want initially to liberate certain strategic zones where the army - or what remains of it - does not want, or is trying to avoid confronting our forces.” According to Halata, the rebels have more than 5,000 men already deployed on the ground and another column is advancing on the capital from the north.
The latest offensive is the second in four months in the impoverished African nation bordering Sudan. In February, France - Chad’s former colonial power - intervened to support Deby in a rebel offensive that managed to breach the capital.
But this time, Paris has been reluctant to get involved. During a weekend visit to the Ivory Coast, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said: “France’s role is not to support the government,” quashing claims that the rebels had made serious moves toward the Chadian capital.
Calls on Paris to initiate a dialogue
While Chadian rebel leaders have, in the past, repeatedly criticized Paris for supporting Deby’s regime, a spokesman for the UDC (Union for Democratic Change) - which is part of the National Alliance - called on Paris to establish a dialogue between the government and rebel leaders.
“Chadians need peace,” said Abderahman Koulamallah in an interview with FRANCE 24. “And instead of getting involved in a war in Chad, France should be helping to open up negotiations.”
While some Chadian government officials have dismissed the latest rebel advance as a “publicity stunt,” others have warned about the dangers to come if the offensive continues unchecked.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 over the weekend, Chadian Ambassador to France Hissein Brahim Taha said the latest offensive was yet another way to destabilize the country. “It's certain that there will be more dead,” said Taha. “Young Chadians will die, from both sides.”
Gunfire exchanges near the Darfur refugee camps
Sunday’s offensive into Am Dam followed the previous day’s push into Goz-Beida, not far from Chad’s eastern border with Sudan, where rebel troops exchanged fire with Irish EU troops protecting refugee camps under the European Union's EUFOR mission in eastern Chad. There were no reports of any injuries during the incident.
Irish troops are currently part of an EU force that has a UN mandated peacekeeping mission in eastern Chad to protect refugees fleeing the crisis-torn Darfur region in neighboring Sudan.
Both Chad and Sudan accuse each other of backing insurgents who have attacked both capitals this year.
France has air and ground troops stationed in Chad since 1986 as part of an operation named Epervier under a defence agreement between Paris and N'Djamena.
Rebel Movements on the Sudanese Boarder
Elsewhere, tensions are growing on the boarder between Chad and Sudan. France 24 correspondent, Latif Zoheir, currently in Al Geneina, has noted rebel movements between Soudan and Chad. “We have seen several Chadian opposition cars and convoys headed towards Chadian territories” he said.
He asserts that according to the Chadian opposition, there hasn’t been any fighting around the boarders because Chadian governmental armies are not present. On the Sudanese side, the correspondent has noticed the “considerable presence of the Sudanese army around the boarders”. He says that according to their statements to France 24, the Sudanese army is worried that some Sudanese opponents will take advantage of the confused situation to get into Sudan.