Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
(By Mike Pflanz in Nairobi, Kenya and Tom Chivers, Feb. 4, 2008, Telegraph.co.uk) – Chadian rebels have retreated from the capital N’Djamena following a prolonged attack from a government force of tanks and helicopter gunships.
Chadian rebels claim to have withdrawn voluntarily from the city, although it is not clear whether the retreat was in fact forced by the assault.
Scores of civilians were wounded in the fighting, which began on Saturday with an uprising against Chadian president Idriss Deby. A spokesman for the rebels told AP that they had decided to retreat “to give the population a chance to get out.”
However, government sources claimed that loyal forces had repelled the uprising and forced the retreat.
The French military put the strength of the rebel forces at between 1,000 and 1,500 troops, compared to around two to three thousand loyal to the government.
While rebels have claimed that “many” soldiers were defecting, the French defence minister HervÃƒÂ© Morin reports that President Deby “still has command over practically all of the Chadian army.”
The fighting has put one of Africa’s biggest aid operations, which is keeping 370,000 refugees alive, in jeopardy, and a general evacuation of foreigners has begun.
Gunfire echoed across the mud buildings of N’Djamena as three rebel groups tried to overthrow President Idriss Deby, who is believed to be trapped inside his palace.
The aid agency MSF [Doctors Without Borders] told the BBC that there were “a lot of dead bodies” in the city, and 300 people being treated in hospitals.About 500 Europeans and Americans have been taken to nearby Gabon on French military aircraft. At least 28 Britons remain in Chad, according to the Foreign Office.
“The fighting started again not long after daylight close to the presidential palace, less than a kilometre from where I was,” said Gabriel Stauring, an American campaigner with the Stop Genocide Now group.
Mr. Stauring said that he was forced to crouch behind a wall, with bullets ricocheting around the hotel dining room, as French soldiers repelled a rebel attack on the building on Saturday.
He and about 50 other foreigners were taken in armoured personnel carriers to a French military base. “We were in these tank-like vehicles with very few windows, but we could see that the city was deserted, only a couple of pedestrians and a man on a bike,” Mr. Stauring said.
“I have been to Chad to visit refugee camps in the east, and have even been close to some minor clashes, but nothing like the all-out fighting that has been going on in the city for the last two days.”
France, the former colonial power, has 1,450 troops in Chad. Paris helped Mr Deby to seize power in 1990 and protected him against an earlier rebel assault in April 2006.
Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, denounced a “brutal attack on a legal government”. But he added that France would not intervene.
“The decision has been taken: our support for the Chadian authorities – which remains unchanged – will not take the shape of a participation in combat,” he said.
The civil war has already forced about 150,000 Chadians to flee their homes. Chad hosts another 220,000 refugees from neighbouring Sudan, who have fled the war in Darfur.
An international relief effort, co-ordinated by the United Nations, is keeping these people alive. But the UN has already ordered an evacuation of its international staff from N’Djamena and aid workers are following suit.
“We have no means of moving aid and staff, and if the violence continues, our humanitarian operations will be severely hampered,” said Gareth Owen, the emergencies director for Save The Children, who is in Chad. “If aid supplies are interrupted, millions more lives will be at risk.”
Chad’s war is linked to the conflict in Darfur.
Sudan accuses Mr. Deby of fuelling the fighting in Darfur by supplying the rebels. Khartoum has retaliated by arming the insurgents on Chad’s territory.
A British aid worker in Chad said: “The question is whether what we are seeing now is the start of an all-out conflict between Chad and Sudan.”
The rebels launched a lightning offensive across Chad a week ago, beginning from bases in western Sudan.
Riding a convoy of 300 vehicles, they reached N’Djamena on Saturday. Mr Deby has refused a French offer to airlift him to safety and seems determined to fight the rebel attack.
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1. a) List the countries that border Chad.
b) Who is the president of Chad?
c) What is the capital of Chad?
2. When did rebels in Chad begin their most recent coup attempt against the president? Be specific.
3. How does the rebels’ reason for retreating from the capital today differ from the reason the government gave for their retreat?
4. Describe the relationship Chad has with France, and what type of help France has offered to give in the current crisis.
5. How is the conflict in Chad linked to Darfur, Sudan?
Chad, part of France’s African holdings until 1960, endured three decades of civil warfare as well as invasions by Libya before a semblance of peace was finally restored in 1990. The government eventually drafted a democratic constitution, and held flawed presidential elections in 1996 and 2001. In 1998, a rebellion broke out in northern Chad, which sporadically flares up despite several peace agreements between the government and the rebels. In 2005, new rebel groups emerged in western Sudan and have made probing attacks into eastern Chad, despite signing peace agreements in December 2006 and October 2007. (from From the CIA World FactBook)
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