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Africa

Fighting between troops and rebels kills 247, govt says

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-05-09

Sudan-backed rebels, who crossed the border from neighbouring Sudan, clashed with Chadian troops for a second day in eastern Chad, rebel sources said. The government says 247 people have been killed in the fighting so far.

Two days of fighting in the east of Chad has claimed 247 lives, including 225 rebel combatants, the government's spokesman said Friday in what he called a provisional casualty toll.
   
Speaking at a press briefing, Communications Minister Mahamat Hissene added that 127 rebel vehicles had been captured, and 93 destroyed, during combat that erupted on Thursday and raged into Friday.

   
The fighting concentrated around the town of Am-Dam has raised concerns among UN agencies and aid groups caring for about 450,000 refugees from Sudan and Central African Republic in camps in eastern Chad.
   
The UN Security Council meets Friday to discuss the fighting. France, which has troops in Chad, is also anxiously watching events.
   
The Chad army has bombed the rebels from planes and helicopters since they crossed the Sudanese border on Monday. The Chad government accuses Sudan of backing the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) rebels who say their aim is to take the capital Ndjamena.
   
There were new "violent clashes" early Friday, a rebel spokesman Ali Ordjo Hemchi told AFP in a statement. He said "several dozen" government troops had been killed or wounded and tanks destroyed in the fighting around Houaich, near Am-Dam.
   
The spokesman said rebels were chasing government forces further east.
   
The government confirmed the new clashes and said 60 rebel vehicles had been destroyed or captured.
   
The army said that 125 rebels and 21 soldiers were killed, 30 government troops wounded, and 152 rebels taken prisoner in clashes Thursday at Am-Deressa, another locality south of Am-Dam.
   
Communications Minister Mahamat Hissene said Thursday that "government forces gained the upper hand and mopping up operations are continuing."
   
Interim defence minister Adoum Younousmi spoke earlier of "heavy" casualties from "fierce" combat.
   
The rebels said that they occupy Am-Dam which is 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of Goz Beida and 100km (60 miles) south of Abeche, the two towns used as bases by relief agencies working in eastern Chad.
   
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Thursday said it had pulled all but two of 20 staff out of camps for 60,000 people because of the new instability.
   
The UN World Food Programme took a similar decision in the region on Wednesday.
   
"All the other humanitarian agencies are going to do the same" because the situation is "too volatile and too unstable," said Serge Male, representing the High Commissioner for Refugees in Chad.
   
Chad has accused Sudan of backing the rebel assault, which began after the neighbours signed a peace pact on Sunday.
   
The rebels claim to have more than 1,000 all-terrain vehicles to carry their forces across the desert but said they had been attacked each day by helicopters and high-flying bombers.
   
The government has so far stated that it carried out one air attack.
   
In February 2008, rebels battled their way to the gates of the presidential palace in Ndjamena before being beaten back. And there are new worries in the capital.
   
"Memories of what happened in February 2008 come back into my head," said Elise Mariam, a fish seller in Ndjamena, one of thousands who fled the city then.
   
"Since I heard that war is back, I've been really frightened.
   
"I abandoned everything and lost it all. I don't want to live through that again... The international community should act fast."
   
Chadian Interior and Public Security Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bashir has accused Sudanese President Omar El-Beshir of ordering "mercenaries" to attack Chad and vowed that the rebels would be wiped out.
   
Peace between Chad and Sudan is regarded as essential to any lasting settlement to a six-year-old uprising in Sudan's western Darfur region.
   
Deby seized power in a similar rebellion in 1990, also launched from Sudan. He was first elected president in a vote in 1996, re-elected in 2001 and stood for a third term in 2006, when the opposition boycotted the poll.

Date created : 2009-05-08

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