/ 7 February 2008

Chad calls for EU deployment as rebels regroup

Chad President Idriss Déby Itno called on the European Union on Thursday to deploy a peacekeeping force urgently to the east, as his government sought to tighten security after a weekend rebel assault.

Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew across the capital, Ndjamena, and swathes of east and central Chad after the remnants of the rebel column that attacked the city withdrew halfway to the Sudan border.

A spokesperson for the rebels, Ali Ordjo Hemchi, said they had taken the town of Mongo, 600km east of Ndjamena, and were being bombed by French war planes and helicopters.

There was no independent confirmation of this. Former colonial power France, which has over 1 000 troops stationed in the Central African oil producer, has denied rebel allegations it is supporting Déby militarily.

As calm returned to the dusty riverside capital, hundreds of refugees, who fled to Cameroon after the weekend clashes that killed at least 160 civilians, returned over the river border.

Emergency workers in Ndjamena scooped up bodies with an earthmover on Thursday as people cleared up debris from damaged buildings. Army pick-ups packed with turbaned soldiers sped around streets littered with burned-out vehicles.

The renewed conflict has delayed the deployment of a 3 700-strong EU peacekeeping force to eastern Chad to protect half-a-million Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians who have fled violence spilling over from Sudan’s Darfur region.

Relief officials said the unrest threatened to provoke a humanitarian crisis by blocking aid flights. The EU had started deployment of its force last week but suspended it almost immediately due to the rebel attack.

”We want to launch a solemn appeal to the European Union, and France … to make sure that this force is put in place as quickly as possible to lighten the load we are carrying,” Déby said in an interview broadcast on France’s Europe 1 radio.

Déby, who accuses Sudan of backing the rebels, said the international community had given Khartoum ”the green light to destabilise Chad” by not condemning its role. The United Nations Security Council issued a non-binding statement on Monday urging members to support Déby, but spurned France’s request to mention Sudan.

Khartoum, which denies backing the rebels, said on Thursday it had joined Libyan-led mediation efforts and had been behind the insurgents’ decision to withdraw from Ndjamena. — Reuters