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Calm returns to Chad as rebels head south

Latest update : 2008-02-10

As the rebels flee south, chased by the army, four Chadian opposition members have been arrested. Their worried families believe President Idriss Deby is behind their disappearance. (Report: S. Claudet, V. Herz)

Traffic resumed Sunday in front of Chad's presidential palace as calm returned to the city days after at least 160 people were killed in a rebel attack designed to topple the government.

The rebels, who withdrew after heavy fighting last week, have abandoned their stronghold in central Chad and are manoeuvring south with army troops in pursuit, military sources said.

The government's strict curfew remains in place on citizens in the rest of the country but people in Ndjamena are now allowed to leave their homes in the evenings, the interior ministry said Saturday.

Sources said the rebel alliance that tried to topple President Idriss Deby Itno had left the central town of Mongo, 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the east of the capital, and was heading south.

"About 150 to 200 rebel vehicles left Mongo on Saturday and were heading in the direction of Am Timan, in the southern zone of the three borders," where Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic meet, one source said.

It is a lawless area where the borders are porous and people can cross undetected from one country to another.

Another military source said the rebel movements appeared to be "in order and well organised."

"They are being chased by the Chadian National Army," he added.

Following the attacks by rebels opposed to Deby, the government on Thursday banned all movements between 6:30 pm and 6:00 am. That has now been shortened in the capital to between midnight and 6:00 am.

The fact that the government maintained the full curfew in the rest of Chad is a sign of the uncertainty still surrounding the intentions of the rebel alliance, which has united three factions against Deby.

"We had a strategy designed to quickly topple the regime," a rebel source said Saturday. "But when that didn't work we had to regroup to the rear, where we could more easily get our hands on some necessary fuel."

Some observers believe the rebels may try and mount another offensive on the capital but military sources doubt they have sufficient arms or fuel.

At the same time, it is far from clear whether Chad's armed forces have the means to inflict a decisive defeat on the rebels.

Date created : 2008-02-10