/ 18 June 2008

Chadian army claims ‘decisive’ win over rebels

Chadian troops have routed rebel forces advancing from the country’s east to the capital, the army chief said on Wednesday as Ndjamena again accused neighbouring Sudan of backing the insurgents.

General Touka Ramadan Kore, chief of army staff, told reporters his men had won a ”decisive victory” in Am Zoer, north-east of the eastern provincial capital of Abeche, killing more than 160 rebels and halting a week-long insurgent offensive.

”The Sudanese mercenaries have either fled or are dead,” he said, adding that ”scores have been taken prisoner”.

He said three soldiers had died in the counter-attack and added that the government forces had managed to recover about 40 military vehicles seized by the rebels in an earlier raid.

Kore showed visiting journalists about 20 prisoners, five of whom were wounded in battle.

”It’s over for them,” he exulted. ”Sudanese troops staged an attack to create a diversion. But we were not fazed. And you can see the result.”

Major General Adoum Guelemine Gabglia put the number of dead at ”more than 400” and said: ”We played cat-and-house with them for eight days. The moment the mouse wanted to enter its hole, we set a trap.”

But Ali Gueddei, a spokesperson for the rebel National Alliance, rejected the claims, saying: ”You talk about a toll. Is it credible?”

An Agence France Press reporter at the battleground saw eight rebel corpses and the apparent graves of six people. A charred army tank and a 4×4 stood nearby among about 10 destroyed vehicles and two trucks armed with anti-aircraft cannon.

Chadian rebels launched a fresh offensive against President Idriss Déby Itno on June 11, starting with raids on eastern towns and rapidly wresting control of four of them before evacuating.

They aim to replicate a February campaign to topple Déby Itno, which saw them ring the presidential palace in Ndjamena before being repelled by government troops.

Chad and Sudan accuse each other of supporting insurgencies in their respective countries.

Chadian authorities say Sudan attacked a frontier garrison on Tuesday, an accusation denied by Khartoum.

Meanwhile, Chadian General Issa Djadallah Bichara, who doubles up as the Governor of the eastern region of Ouaddai flanking Sudan’s war-riven Darfur, said Sudanese troops had twice attacked the frontier garrison of Ade.

Bichara, a former defence minister, claimed the Sudanese forces staged a ”heavy attack, backed up by airpower and bombings … I think their aim was to create a breach so that the mercenaries could cross the border”.

”We have taken prisoners but we have also suffered losses,” he said. ”It is Sudan which is recruiting, which is paying these fighters. As long as Sudan continues doing this, there will be rebels.”

Relations between Chad and Sudan have been difficult for more than five years with the two countries regularly accusing each other of supporting rebel factions fighting against their respective regimes.

Diplomatic relations broke off in mid-May after an attack near Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, by a Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement. Ndjamena denied any involvement.

Chad, Africa’s fifth-largest country, is semi-arid but has vast reserves of gold and uranium and new-found oil wealth. But poverty is rife and the former French colony has been wracked by unrest based on ethnic lines since its 1960 independence. It has also suffered successive Libyan invasions.

Déby Itno, who came to power in a 1990 military coup backed by France and Libya, is accused by critics of subverting human rights, trampling the Constitution and leading a corrupt and autocratic regime. — Sapa-AFP