/ 6 February 2008

Chad rebels vow to resist if attacked by French

Chadian rebels said on Wednesday they would defend themselves if attacked by French troops or other foreign forces in Chad, and vowed to press ahead with their fight to topple President Idriss Déby Itno.

They said they were still occupying positions ”around Ndjamena”, but declined to specify how far they were from the capital.

”We are determined to achieve our objectives, whatever foreign force intervenes in Chad, from France or elsewhere … If we are attacked, then we have the right to legitimately defend ourselves,” rebel spokesperson Ali Ordjo Hemchi said.

He said he was speaking by telephone from a location outside Ndjamena.

Hemchi said the anti-Déby alliance of rebel groups, calling itself the Forces of National Resistance, were not frightened by warnings from France that it might intervene more directly in Chad in support of Déby.

”We ask France to remain neutral, on the side of the Chadian people, and not on the side of a failed regime,” he said.

He insisted that acceptance of any ceasefire by the rebels would depend on Déby stepping down.

”That’s the position of all of us,” he said.

‘Many innocent people were killed’

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees who fled weekend fighting in Ndjamena have arrived in Nigeria after a gruelling journey through Cameroon and are camping in the open in remote border towns.

In Gamboru-Ngala, a dusty outpost near Nigeria’s north-eastern border with Cameroon, a Reuters reporter saw hundreds of haggard refugees sitting in the shade of trees awaiting help. Many said they had not eaten for days.

Most were women and children and appeared to have left in a hurry as they had few possessions apart from the clothes they were wearing. Some had walked for days while others had paid to ride on open-top trucks.

”We were in Ndjamena when the fighting started. We heard gunfire from above and saw a helicopter spitting fire at the people. Many innocent people were killed,” said Abdulkarim Abubakar, a young man who came with his mother and sister.

”Some of our relatives were killed and we ran away because we don’t want to suffer the same fate,” he said.

A regional immigration official in the north-eastern state of Borno said there were about 1 100 refugees from Chad in Gamboru-Ngala alone, with about 3 000 more expected to arrive from overstretched Cameroonian towns over the next few days. — Reuters