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Chad's President Fires His Defense Minister

Chad's President Idriss Deby has fired his defense minister following a week of intense fighting between government troops and rebels in eastern Chad.

A statement issued Saturday said only that Defense Minister Mahamat Nour Abdelkarim had been dismissed. No reason for his removal was given.

Government sources say the former defense minister has taken refuge in the Libyan embassy in the capital, Ndjamena.

Rebels and Chad's army clashed in eastern Chad this week after the collapse of a month-old cease-fire. Both sides claim to have killed hundreds of their opponents, although no independent confirmation of the casualties is available.

On Friday, Chad's main rebel group, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, declared a state of war against French forces and any other foreign troops on Chadian territory.

The rebels claim France has engaged in a "hostile act" by providing diplomatic, strategic and logistical support to President Deby.

France has more than 1,000 troops stationed in Chad under a bilateral defense pact.

France also is due to provide about half of a 3,500-member European peacekeeping force due to deploy to eastern Chad next year.

The force is designed to protect refugee camps filled with people who fled fighting in eastern Chad and the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan.

Chad's government signed a cease-fire agreement with four major rebel groups in Libya last month. But two of the groups broke the cease-fire a week ago, accusing the government of President Deby of failing to keep promises in the truce agreement.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.