French Mirage fighter dropped bomb near Chadian rebels heading for N'Djamena
A French Mirage fighter dropped a bomb near a column of Chadian rebels heading for the capital N'Djamena as a "warning" to insurgents seeking to overthrow President Idriss Deby, a French official said. The bomb fell "in the sand" yesterday and didn't cause any casualties, a French Defense Ministry spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said by telephone today.
Rebels of the United Front for Democratic Change, or FUC, battled government forces in N'Djamena beginning at dawn today before being repelled, President Deby said in an interview with Radio France International. The attack was "suicidal," he said.
"The situation in N'Djamena is under the control of the defense and security forces,'' Deby told RFI.
Attacks by the FUC rebels who are based along the eastern border with Sudan have increased in advance of presidential elections scheduled for next month. Deby, who seized power in 1990, is standing for re-election in polls that most opposition parties are boycotting. The main rebel forces are about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from N'Djamena, the French spokesman said.
"I hope we're not in a situation where you've got a coup and an overthrow of the government,'' U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said today in Washington.
Deby is a Zaghawa, an ethnic group that represents about 1.5 percent of Chad's 10 million people, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported on its Web site. His grip on power has been weakened by defections of former allies in recent months.
"It's dissatisfied elements of former Deby allies who are powerful figures in this rebellion," Jason Mosley, Africa editor at the Oxford Analytica, said in a telephone interview today.
Deby's nephew General Abakar Youssouf Mahamat Itno, who was Chad's senior army officer, died last month in fighting against rebels operating along the Sudanese border.
Deby may not remain in power beyond next week, Mosley said.
"The speed with which the rebel advance has moved towards N'Djamena indicates that their objective is to take Deby out," Mosley said. "They are not going to stop just because they didn't take the National Assembly this morning.''
A major concern amid the turmoil is the safety of camps in eastern Chad that house refugees from Sudan's Darfur region, Zoellick said following a speech at the Brookings Institution, a policy study group.
"The most up-to-date information I have is that the situation in the camps is stable and OK," Zoellick said. "We have to try to make sure that the people who are in the refugee camps are safe and can feed their babies."
Landlocked Chad produces about 170,000 barrels of oil a day and ships it in a pipeline that runs through Cameroon to the Atlantic Ocean. Exxon Mobil Corp. owns 40 percent of the project Petroliam Nasional Bhd. 35 percent and Chevron Corp. the rest.
In January, the World Bank cut off $124 million in loans to Chad after the central African nation changed its laws that ensured revenue from its oil pipeline would boost spending on education, health care, social services and rural development.
The changes, approved on Dec. 29 by Chad's parliament, will weaken the country's ability to reduce poverty, the World Bank said. The government has argued it needed to amend its Petroleum Revenue Management Law to boost revenue.
Yesterday's air attack by French planes caused an unknown number of casualties, said the FUC rebel representative in France, former Chad Foreign Minister Laona Gong, Agence France-Presse reported.
"We deplore numerous civilian victims of French bombings in the towns of Adre and Moudeina," AFP cited Gong as saying.
Jean-Francois Bureau, the chief French Defense Ministry spokesman, denied that there had been any attack on towns.
"here were no casualties," Bureau said. "We are not involved in any military action. We are there to protect our nationals."
About 1,500 French nationals live in Chad, a former French colony, and the French army has 1,250 soldiers in the country, the Defense Ministry said.
Deby came to power in 1990, when he successfully ousted then-President Hissene Habre after an offensive on N'Djamena from bases in Sudan.
In recent months, Deby has accused the Sudanese government of backing the rebels who have operated from Sudan's western region of Darfur.
Mosley of Oxford Analytica said that while the crisis in Chad distracts international attention away from the civil war in Darfur, there is no hard evidence that the government in Khartoum is arming the Chadian rebels.
"Just because they are able to set up shop in Darfur doesn't mean the Sudanese government is arming them," Mosley said. "Operating in Sudan doesn't make you a Sudanese proxy."
To contact the reporter on this story:
Helene Fouquet in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org;
Joe Bavier in Abidjan, Ivory Coast through Johannesburg at (27) email@example.com
See Update 4 for above report.
Apr 10 2006 FUC in eastern Chad mount fresh offensive to get to N'Djamena and oust Chadian President Deby
Apr 11 2006 BBC Chad rebels attack refugee camp - Chad has 12 camps hosting Sudanese refugees from Darfur. A large number of army officers have deserted to join the FUCD, a coalition of rebel groups led by Mahamat Nour from bases in Darfur on Sudan's border with Chad. But Chad's government is refusing to call the attackers rebels and blames Sudan for the incident at the camp. Chad says the assailants were mercenaries supported by Khartoum.
Apr 11 2006 BBC Chadian rebels raid central town
Apr 11 2006 Propaganda war in Chad aimed at sowing fear and panic
Apr 12 2006 BBC Chad rebels 'advance on capital' - The BBC's Stephanie Hancock in N'Djamena says people in the capital are going to work as usual, but are not sending their children to school in case of unrest.
Apr 13 2006 EU calls for calm in Chad
Apr 13 2006 UNHCR alarmed over possible impact of Chad violence on refugees
Apr 13 2006 The Times Analysis: Conflict in Chad has roots in Darfur