Chad's President Idriss
Deby arrives for an EU Africa Summit in Lisbon, Sunday December 9,
2007. Heavy gunfire was heard February 2, 2008 near the
presidential palace in Chad, a hotel operator reached by telephone
said, and rebel forces were believed to have reached the capital
after a lightning advance across the desert in pickup
Hundreds of rebels penetrated the capital of Chad on Saturday,
clashing with government troops and moving on the presidential
palace after a three-day advance through the oil-producing central
African nation, officials and witnesses said.
Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman, said groups
of rebels gathered outside the capital, N'Djamena, overnight before
1,000 to 1,500 fighters entered early Saturday and spread through
A leader of Chad's main opposition alliance, which is unarmed
and not associated with the rebels, said shooting erupted after
rebels entered the city around 8 A.M. but appeared to die down
about two hours later. Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh said about 12:45
P.M. that there were no soldiers in his neighborhood and state
radio had gone off the air.
"At the moment we are not hearing any firing ... The rebels are
in the city. Civilians are in the streets. They are watching what
is happening," said Saleh.
The renewed fighting has led the European Union to delay its
peacekeeping mission in both Chad and neighboring Central African
Republic, which was due to be up and running early next month, said
Commandant Dan Harvey, speaking at the EU military headquarters in
Paris on Friday. The deployment of the advance force could be
postponed for days, he said.
The force already has met repeated delays. It is aimed at
protecting refugees from the conflict-wracked Sudanese region of
Darfur, which borders Chad, as well as protecting Chadians and
Central Africans displaced by turmoil in their own countries.
The new head of the African Union said Saturday that the bloc
would not recognize Chadian rebels should they seize power.
"If the rebellion succeeds, certainly we will excommunicate them
from the African Union until normalcy and democratic institutions
are restored in that country, if it has to happen that way at all,"
Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete told a news conference.
The United Nations decided to temporarily evacuate all its staff
from Chad's capital because of the fighting, said William Spindler,
spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The French and American governments told their citizens to
assemble in secure locations.
The US Embassy said in a bulletin on its Web site that any
American citizens seeking evacuation should immediately move to the
embassy. State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth said the embassy
had authorized the departure of nonessential personnel and family
"At this time the US is monitoring the security situation
closely," Duckworth said in a statement. "The serious violence that
has occurred has not been directed at any US personnel or
facilities. We are taking all appropriate precautions to ensure the
security of US mission personnel and all American citizens in
France's embassy in Chad sent messages over Radio France
Internationale telling citizens to head to the Lycee Francais high
school and two other locations in N'Djamena, a French diplomatic
official said on condition of anonymity because government policy
barred him from providing his name.
A hotel operator at the Hotel le Meridien, about a mile from the
headquarters of President Idriss Deby, said gunfire and explosions
had been resounding through the capital since 7 A.M.
The man, who would not give his name, said he had not seen any
rebels. The line went dead before a reporter could get more
details. Other phone lines were also dead and the information could
not immediately be confirmed.
Rebels in more than a dozen vehicles drove past the Libya Hotel,
which overlooks the parliament building, said a man who answered
the telephone at that hotel.
"I saw more than 15 vehicles and they (the rebels) were firing
into the air," said the man, who also would not give his name.
He said he also watched looters go into a police station
opposite the hotel, stealing chairs and throwing papers on the
Rebel forces have been advancing on the capital for three days
in about 250 pickup trucks after crossing the border from Sudan,
some 510 miles to the east of N'Djamena.
Clashes broke out Friday morning near Massakori, northeast of
N'Djamena, and moved closer to the capital to Massaguet, said
Burkhard, the French military spokesman. France-Info radio said
helicopters bombarded rebel positions.
Chad, a French colony until 1960, has been convulsed by civil
wars and invasions since independence, and the recent discovery of
oil has only increased the intensity of the struggle for power in
the largely desert country.
The most recent series of rebellions began in 2005 in the
country's east, occurring at the same time as the conflict in
neighboring Sudan's western region of Darfur saw a rise in
violence. One Chadian rebel group launched a failed assault on
N'Djamena, in April 2006.
The governments of Chad and Sudan repeatedly exchange
accusations the one is backing the other's rebel groups.
UN officials estimate that around 3 million people have been
uprooted by conflicts in the region, including the fighting in
western Sudan's Darfur region and rebellions in Central African
France sent more troops late Thursday to boost a longtime
military presence in Chad. About 1,500 French citizens live in
Chad, most in N'Djamena. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called a
meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris late Friday to discuss the
situation in Chad, his office said.
Air France canceled its scheduled daily flight to N'Djamena on
Friday because its personnel there "had no access to the airport,"
an airline spokesman said. The spokesman said it was not clear why
access to the airport was blocked.
(China Daily Via Agencies February 3, 2008)