Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Chadian rebels urge EU not to send peacekeepers

NOT FAIR? The rebels said the eu peacekeepers would not be neutral because they would be dominated by french troops, who allegedly helped repel a rebel attack

AGENCIES , N'DJAMENA

Chadian rebels yesterday urged EU member states not to send peacekeeping troops to the country's east, saying the force would not be neutral because it would be dominated by France.

The rebels said France, which is contributing more than half of the 3,700-strong EU force to be deployed in eastern Chad, had directly helped Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno to beat off a rebel attack on the capital N'Djamena earlier this month.

The alliance of anti-Deby rebel groups said in a statement that French tanks and helicopters, part of a French military contingent stationed in Chad, had opened fire in the recent fighting. Civilians were killed, it said.

France, which has rallied international support behind Deby, has denied its forces took any direct part in combat, although it said they fired back in self-defense while evacuating more than 1,000 French and other foreign nationals from N'Djamena.

"France has shown to the world she is no longer neutral in this conflict that opposes Deby's dictatorial regime against the armed national resistance," the rebel statement said.

The rebels fled south on Sunday pursued by government forces, the military said, as the UN refugee agency warned that recent fighting in the country had put aid agencies in danger.

Although a calm returned to the capital a week after a bloody assault on the city which left more than 160 people dead, the rebel forces said they were heading south in order to stretch government supply lines.

In a statement out of Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said security was "spiralling downwards" for agencies attempting to assist refugees from Sudan who were fleeing into eastern Chad.

"We are already operating in an environment where security is spiralling downwards, where the supply from N'Djamena is cut after recent fighting, and where our field offices are running short of fuel," UNHCR spokeswoman Catherine Huck said.

The rebels, who were attempting to overthrow Deby, abandoned their fallback position in central Chad over the weekend and headed south with the army in pursuit, military officials said.

"About 150 to 200 rebel vehicles left Mongo on Saturday and were heading in the direction of Am Timan, in the southern zone of the three borders," one source said.

The rebels were heading to this lawless area where the porous borders of Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic meet, leading some to speculate that they will look to slip back to the safety of their Sudanese bases.

"Time is starting to favor Deby -- the rebels are perhaps beginning to lack petrol, arms, food. Perhaps they are looking for an exit," another military source said.

A rebel spokesman dismissed talk of a retreat.

"We are trying a new strategy, we want to stretch them out as far as possible from their bases," Abderaman Koulamallah said.

He said an army helicopter had fired over the heads of the rebel forces, but not attacked.

Back in the capital, residents were allowed to leave their homes in the evening for the first time since a strict curfew was imposed after weekend battles between the rebels and government forces.

Shops reopened with the scars of war still in evidence, including the charred shells of tanks.

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