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Confusion Remains Over Origins of Chad Rebels


Chad's president has claimed a victory over attacking rebels, after intense fighting that authorities say has left 350 people dead. But who are the insurgents, and what do they want? Joe Bavier looks into the question.


In the capital, N'Djamena, around 150 men were paraded before journalists in a public square Friday. Chad's government says they are rebel fighters, who were captured during Thursday's fighting in the capital.

Chadian officials said the men were mercenaries, allegedly hired by the country's eastern neighbor, Sudan. Chad's president, Idriss Deby, has repeatedly accused Khartoum of backing the rebels. And on Friday, Chad announced it was severing diplomatic ties with Sudan.

Sudan denies giving any support to the rebel group, United Front for Change, known by the French acronym FUC.

Experts say the group's origins are far from clear, but it is believed to include many former members of Chad's army.

Rebels began launching attacks late last year along the Sudanese border. In December, a movement, known as the Rally for Democracy and Liberty, attacked the town of Adre in open fighting with the Chad army.

Soon after that, the Rally for Democracy and Liberty announced the formation of the FUC, a grouping of nine armed movements with a shared goal: the overthrow of President Deby.

Chad has been wracked by civil war, coup attempts and insurgencies for more than three decades. Mr. Deby, himself, came to power in a 1990 coup.

Many of those involved in the FUC have close ethnic ties with Mr. Deby, with some coming from his own ethnic group, the Zaghawa. But Chad expert Richard Barltrop says the motivators in the latest violence are more complex than ethnic rivalries.

"The explanation probably lies more on political and economic factors than tribal and clan," he said. "Certainly, it's true that the Zaghawa aren't monolithic, and, therefore, you should not expect uniform loyalty among the Zaghawa."

President Deby recently pushed through changes to the constitution that allow him to run for a third term in office. The move was criticized by opposition leaders, who have vowed to boycott the polls, scheduled for early May.

And, the FUC has vowed to topple Mr. Deby before the election.

Analyst Barltrop says it could be that the president has simply collected too many enemies during his long stint in power.

"Given that Deby has been in power for coming on 16 years now, he will have generated quite enough opponents for political and economic reasons [that have] to do with the share of power and economic positions," he added.

Chad recently became an oil exporting nation, a fact some experts say has raised the economics and political stakes.

Finally, Barltrop says, President Deby's claims that Sudan is backing the rebels should be taken seriously. The president, himself a former rebel leader, toppled his predecessor, Hissene Habre, in 1990, launching a rebellion from Sudan's western Darfur province that most analysts agree was likely supported by Khartoum.

"What's happening now has happened before in Chad," he explained. "It is quite similar to political reversals in the 1980's. The similarity to 1990 is uncanny."

Beginning Sunday, the rebels led an advance, traveling from strongholds in the east, to arrive to within striking distance of N'Djamena late Wednesday. Fighting in the Chadian capital began before dawn Thursday, and lasted several hours, before President Deby claimed a victory for government forces.

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