Chad army battles rebels near capital

Chad’s army fought to hold off advancing rebels 100km from the capital, Ndjamena, on Friday as the renewed combat delayed the deployment of European peacekeepers to the Central African country.

Up to 3 700 European Union troops were due to arrive in coming weeks on an urgent peacekeeping mission to eastern Chad, but anti-government rebels pre-empted the deployment with a lightning offensive this week towards the capital in the west.

As Chadian troops battled to halt the rebel advance northeast of Ndjamena, France airlifted in reinforcements for its military contingent in Chad under a bilateral defence treaty with the former French colony.

The French military said its Mirage jets and soldiers were giving logistics, medical and intelligence support to President Idriss Déby Itno’s army, but were not engaged in direct combat.

An EU spokesperson said the ”increased instability” meant the deployment of the first European troops was being delayed.

”At the moment we don’t want to blow this out of proportion, but yes, a flight of Irish troops yesterday [Thursday] and two flights today have been postponed,” the spokesman said in Brussels.

The situation would be monitored ”hour by hour”, he said.

A rebel leader, Timane Erdimi, called on Déby to negotiate an immediate power-sharing deal or face an attack on Ndjamena by the rebels, who had raced in a column of 300 vehicles from the eastern border with Sudan’s war-torn Darfur.

Fierce fighting was reported north-east of the capital. ”We’ve been in combat this morning [Friday] with the rebels at Massakory, 150km from Ndjamena,” a senior army officer said.

In Paris, French armed forces spokesperson Thierry Burkhard said fighting was taking place between Massakory and Massaguet, which lies 78km from the capital on the main road.

The rebels said in a statement they had taken Massaguet, but there was no independent confirmation of this.

In the dusty capital on the banks of the Chari River, most residents stayed at home and the streets were virtually deserted apart from reinforced military checkpoints and patrols.

As helicopters clattered overhead, some residents ventured out to try to stock up on food. ”I’ve got nothing at home, so I’ve come out to look for some supplies, because you never know in this situation,” said Hadje Mariam at a local market.

‘Peace or war’

Chadian officials accuse Sudan of arming and backing the attacking force of several united rebel groups, which have fought a hit-and-run guerrilla war for years against Déby, who himself seized power in a revolt from the east in 1990.

The rebels appeared to be trying to seek a quick military victory before the EU troop deployment.

Rebel chief Erdimi told Radio France International the rebel forces had split up and taken up positions around the capital.

”Even if we’re at the gates of the palace, we’re ready to negotiate a real sharing of power,” Erdimi said. ”It’s up to Mr Déby to choose between peace or war,” he added.

There was no immediate response from Déby.

Government military sources said an army cordon was in place around the city, which was last directly attacked by the rebels in April 2006, when several hundred people were killed.

The presidential palace in Ndjamena was heavily guarded by soldiers, residents said. Cellphone networks were cut off.

Foreign embassies in the Chadian capital were advising their nationals to stay at home and avoid travel.

The European peacekeepers, about half from France, were due to deploy in Chad’s east in coming weeks to protect hundreds of thousands of refugees from violence spilling over from Darfur.

Chadian rebels have previously threatened to attack the European force if it interferes in their campaign against Déby, although European commanders have pledged not to take sides.

Several of Chad’s main eastern rebel groups abandoned a Libyan-brokered ceasefire late last year, triggering pitched battles in November and December that both rebel and government sides said killed hundreds of fighters. — Reuters

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

G is for glamour, not garage shop

Pantry by Marble is disrupting the forecourt shop status quo by offering restaurant-quality services on site

If the state won’t deal with civil war criminals, then...

Liberia decided not to prosecute anyone for crimes committed during its first and second civil wars. Now, one organisation is documenting and aiding prosecution outside the country

Home Suite Hotel: A hidden gem in Sea Point

Founded by the man behind LIFT Airlines, Gidon Novick, Home Suite Hotel knows a thing or two about curating a fresh experience on an old concept.

Latest design and foodie trends at Durban Home Garden Show

The event celebrates 40 years of the city’s design scene. The 2022 edition brings together fashion folk, beer culture, architecture and greenery, while giving visitors their cultural fix

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…