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Rebel Activity Shifts to Northeast of Chad near Libya

Rebels in Chad say they have seized a second town in the remote northeast as they resume low-intensity hit and run operations against the government. Government officials deny reports that Chadian soldiers have ceded any control to the rebels. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's Central and West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Rebel spokesman Makaila Nguebla with the Chad rebel group Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) says that fighters have seized a second town in the remote northeast of Chad.

He says that the rebels' military strategy in the northeast is to exploit the remoteness of the region, which does not have many Chadian government forces. By forcing the government to shift its military resources in response to rebel activity, Nguebla says, then the rebels could eventually return to their previous military front in the east of Chad near the towns of Abeche and Biltine.

Regional analyst Adrien Feniou, with the London-based research group Global Insight, says that the UFDD's shift to the northeast is logical.

"The government counteroffensive in the past two months has increased the militarization of the eastern provinces," he said. "Now that the UFDD rebels have been considerably weakened in this counteroffensive, they have chosen to attack where government control is much weaker, and therefore an easier target for rebel activity."

The British-based Royal Institute of International Affairs Africa Programs head, Alex Vines, says the rebels' growing proximity to Libya may have an impact on the two countries' relations.

He said, "I would imagine there will be more frenetic diplomatic activity."

Vines says this region has a troubled history.

"That is interesting if the rebels are positioning themselves in the north in areas that were an area of Libyan-Chadian conflict in the past," he said. "It will certainly enhance suspicion of Libya."

He says at the end of the Cold War, Libya and Chad had a dispute over the northeast, due to possible uranium wealth in that region.

Rebel spokesman, Nguebla, denies the UFDD has any support from Libya.

He says the UFDD is not concerned about Libyan intervention because the terrain in northeastern Chad is what he calls "inhospitable."

On Saturday, the rebels said they had seized the town of Ounianga Kebir, which is located between the Sudanese and Libyan borders. Chadian government officials disputed the rebel statement, saying that the rebels have since retreated to Sudan.

The rebels have pursued a low-intensity war in an effort to topple President Idriss Deby's regime, which the rebels accuse of gross corruption and human-rights abuses.