Rebels seen moving again in east

Two columns of armed fighters are moving close to areas where aid operations are ongoing in eastern Chad, aid workers in the area said on 13 June.

“The local authorities have already run away from Goz Beida town,” an aid worker based in Goz Beida told IRIN by telephone.

“Two columns of rebels have been seen, one near Goz Beida and the other near Abeche. The governor told us we should call the EUFOR [European Union Force] troops to protect us because the rebels are coming,” the aid official said.

The rebel sightings come following several news reports of clashes between rebels and the Chadian army close to Abeche, and reports that a Chadian army helicopter was shot down on Thursday 12 June.

Also on 12 June state media in Chad reported the government spokesperson Mahamat Hissene as saying in a statement that: “Mercenaries in the pay of Sudan entered Chadian territory on 11 June between Ade and Amdjerena” in eastern Chad.

Chad and Sudan have frequently accused each other of backing anti-government rebels over the last three years. Groups of armed fighters reportedly based in the Darfur region of Sudan have crossed the border twice to attack the Chadian capital N’djamena, first in 2006 and again in March this year.

Both times they were repelled after days of bloody street fighting with the Chadian army. There have also been frequent skirmishes in the eastern provinces of Chad and near the border with Sudan.

When the outer defenses of the Sudan capital Khartoum were breached by rebels in May this year, the government accused Chad of backing those groups, a charge denied by Chad.

While Chad’s government and army have been preoccupied with defending against rebel attacks, more than 150,000 Chadians have been internally displaced by militias which are operating with total impunity in the east. Hundreds of villages have been looted and many Chadians killed and maimed.

Analysts and observers had speculated that the anti-government rebels might make another push to seize N’djamena before heavy rains which usually last from July until October would make it impossible for them to cross the country from Sudan.

A European Union military deployment, EUFOR, is currently on the ground in eastern Chad, mandated to protect the 12 camps housing Sudanese refugees from Darfur. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) operates there, as well as non-governmental organisations and local civil society groups. Aid agencies have complained that EUFOR is failing to properly protect them amid a deteriorating security environment.

Should the rebels succeed in seizing the capital, diplomats and analysts fear that the country could descend into factionalised warfare.

dd/nr/aj