Chad rebels enter Abeche

“My men have entered Abeche,” said General Mahamat Nouri, head of the rebel Union of Forces for Development and Democracy (UFDD).

“We control a good part of the city. The fighting continues around the
city,” he said.

A government official confirmed that the rebels had entered Abeche, some 700 kilometres east of the capital N’Djamena, and close to the border with the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur.

“The situation is very confusing,” the official said. “Only when all the fighting is over will we know if Abeche has fallen into the rebels’ hands or not.”

Military officials said a rebel column of around 80 vehicles rolled into the east of the country from Sudan on Friday.

Clashes erupted just after dawn on Saturday when the column encountered government forces around Abeche.

A spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Abeche, Claire Bourgeois, reported that “heavy arms fire” could be heard in and around the town on Saturday, and described the situation as “very confusing”.

The UFDD, a recently formed alliance of several rebel factions opposed to President Deby, briefly occupied two eastern towns in late October before pulling back toward the borders of Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Clashes left heavy losses on both sides, including the deputy head of the Chadian army, General Moussa Sougui.

N’Djamena has accused Sudan of aiding the rebels, an allegation the latter has denied.

The Arab regime in Khartoum has accused N’Djamena of backing black African rebels in Darfur.

The latest rebel offensive prompted humanitarian groups to suspend operations in eastern Chad, established to deal with the flow of refugees from Darfur and to help victims of violence between Chadian ethnic groups.

The UN estimates that more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees, many of themfrom Darfur, have fled to Chad and that more than 50,000 Chadians have been displaced within their own country.