Rebels, army clash in Chad as truce ends

Rebels and government soldiers fought gun battles in eastern Chad on Monday near the border with Sudan’s Darfur region after two rebel groups ended a month-long ceasefire on the weekend, a rebel leader said.

European Union peacekeepers are due to start deploying to the area in the coming weeks to protect humanitarian operations for about 400 000 Sudanese and Chadian refugees forced from their homes by years of violence.

”The national army started attacking us at 9.30am [local time],” said Mahamat Nouri, leader of the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD), one of Chad’s two main rebel groups.

”We had information that they would attack us, so we were prepared,” he told Reuters by satellite phone as fighting continued near the small towns of Forchana and Hadjer Hadid, about 70km east of Abeche.

UFDD secretary general Abakar Tollimi said he was too busy to talk, as gunfire and at least one heavier explosion echoed in the background.

Government officials confirmed there had been clashes in the area on Monday, but gave no information on casualties.

Chad’s two biggest rebel movements, the UFDD and the Assembly of Forces for Change (RFC), said on Friday they would break a ceasefire as of Sunday, a month after four rebel groups signed a Libyan-brokered peace deal with the government.

UFDD rebels briefly entered Hadjer Hadid on Saturday and exchanged fire with government forces.

Helicopters from both Chadian government forces and a French military unit based permanently in Abeche took off in pursuit after Saturday’s shooting, but failed to track down the rebels, who were driving several vehicles, military sources said. — Reuters

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