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Chad's President Visits Volatile East


Chad's president, Idriss Deby, has visited an eastern town that was the scene of recent fighting between government troops and rebels. Chad is accusing neighboring Sudan of backing the insurgents, who say they are ready for further attacks.

Chadian President Idriss Deby was in the town of Adre on the eastern border with Sudan Wednesday just days after government forces say they repelled rebel attacks there.

According to state radio, Mr. Deby, a former general and a native of eastern Chad, visited Adre in a show of support for soldiers stationed there.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for one rebel movement, which calls itself the Rally for Democracy and Liberty, or RDL, denied the government's version of the recent fighting. Chad's military claims it killed between 100 and 300 rebels before following them into Sudan and destroying bases there.

The spokesman said RDL fighters were poised to renew attacks on government held positions in the east.

Chad has accused neighboring Sudan of backing the RDL and allowing the rebels to operate from Sudan's western Darfur region. Chadian government officials have said they reserve the right to enter into Sudanese territory in pursuit of the rebels.

Sudan has denied any connection with the RDL.

The RDL and another eastern rebel group known as the Platform for Change, National Unity and Democracy are believed to be composed at least partly of Chadian soldiers who defected during a wave of desertions earlier this year.

Until now, the demands of the rebel groups have remained vague, though both are calling for the overthrow of President Deby.

However, an analyst with the London-based group Global Insight, Chris Melville says the recent clashes in the east have helped the two groups evolve into more than simple rebel insurgencies.

"The movement is gradually acquiring a more political focus. They're not simply questioning Deby's management of the armed forces or the way in which he's dealt with the Darfur conflict," he said. "They're talking more generally about the problems that have arisen under Deby's regime. And its beginning to take on an intellectual and political momentum."

Many of the defectors within the rebel factions are members of Mr. Deby's own ethnic group, who once served in key positions in the army and government. Earlier this year, the president dissolved the elite Republican Guard amid fears of a mutiny.

Mr. Melville says the homegrown nature of the latest political instability in Chad does not bode well for President Deby.

"He's at his most vulnerable than at any time during his 15-year tenure as the head of state," he said. "Certainly, he's faced armed insurgencies in the past. And again, these groups were supported by neighboring countries, and so on. But never before has he faced that level of internal dissent."

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled into eastern Chad from Sudan's war-wracked Darfur region. Their presence has placed a strain on resources there. And cross-border attacks by Darfur's various armed groups have raised fears of an eventual expansion of the crisis into Chad.

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