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Chad Rebels, Army Clash


Chad rebels and the army have clashed again outside the eastern town of Biltine, while hundreds of thousands of refugees in the area are in dire need of help. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Clashes erupted early Saturday on the outskirts of Biltine, where there was heavy fighting earlier in the week. The town was briefly occupied by rebels before they retreated, amid a pattern of hit and run tactics.

A Dakar-based rebel spokesman says rebels counterattacked government soldiers, who were leaving Biltine and attacked their positions.

Makailu Nguebla says there were heavy losses on the army side, and that soldiers fled in different directions. There was no word on rebel casualties.

Government officials said reinforcements were being sent to Biltine.

Analysts say rebels from different groups, but with a common goal of toppling President Idriss Deby, have been playing cat and mouse games with the army, attacking different areas before retreating.

France's army has helped Chad's government with surveillance to try to keep track of the sudden movements, which started again several weeks ago after a lull of several months.

The latest fighting has led aid agencies in eastern Chad to scale back their operations. They have been helping tens of thousands of scared local residents, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees, who had already fled the Darfur conflict in neighboring Sudan.

An analyst with London-based Control Risks, Rolake Akinola, says the volatile situation is making matters much worse for them.

"A lot of aid agencies in the region, if in Chad, have been relocating," said Akinola. "So, they have been moving further inland, due to the threat of insecurity. The rebel groups have offered aid agencies protection, and have basically said they would allow aid agencies to continue to do their work. But, obviously, there are renegade rebel groups who are seeking to loot and accumulate resources."

Government officials in Chad's capital N'Djamena are appealing for international help. They say they understand aid agencies are afraid, but that something must be done to help civilian victims.

The government blames Sudan and Islamic extremists for the fighting. Sudan denies any involvement. The rebels say they want to topple a president who came to power in a coup.

The fighting comes as Chad's government has started reaping benefits from a World Bank funded oil pipeline.

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