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Chad Government Declares Victory Over Rebels; France Warns it Will Use Force


Rebel leaders in Chad are giving conflicting statements about a possible cease-fire, while Chad's government is declaring victory after rebels failed to take the capital N'Djamena in last week's fighting. Meanwhile, the president of former colonial power France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said France is ready to do its duty to defend Chad's government if necessary. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar.

Speaking in Aytre, France, Mr. Sarkozy told reporters, that no one should doubt that France will do what it needs to do to defend the government of Chad's President Idriss Deby.

He said if Chad is the victim of aggression, France has the means to oppose such action, following a U.N. Security Council statement on Chad passed late Monday.

French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Maurice Ripert, explained the non-binding resolution calls on member states to support Chad's government.

One rebel leader, Abderahmane Koulamallah, told French media that the rebels decided to accept a cease-fire, based on humanitarian considerations, following mediation by the leaders of Libya, Burkina Faso and the Republic of Congo.

The cease-fire is accepted, he said, on the basis of a future national dialogue on establishing democracy in Chad.

Chad's President Idriss Deby took power in a coup in 1990, and has since changed the constitution to allow unlimited terms. His last election victory in 2006 was widely viewed as fraudulent.

But another rebel leader quoted by the Reuters news agency says rebels will only agree to a cease-fire if Mr. Deby steps down. Rebels have also accused French forces permanently based in Chad of already backing Chad's government militarily.

French officials say their soldiers have evacuated foreigners, and also given logistical, medical and intelligence help to Chad's army, but have not engaged in direct combat.

Chad's Prime Minister Nourredine Kassire Coumakoye said on French television there is no reason to have a cease-fire with what he called dead people.

He said those rebels who were not dead, are fleeing.

Residents who remained in N'Djamena said there are dozens of dead bodies lying on the streets. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates at least 1,000 people were injured during last week's battles, which also caused a mass exodus from the city.

Meanwhile, human rights activists, both local and foreign, say major opposition leaders were arrested or had their houses attacked.

Reed Brody is a spokesman for New-York based Human Rights Watch.

"We are worried as well for the human rights organizations," he said. "It is surprising that the Chadian government is using this fighting as apparently a pretext to settle some scores with the unarmed opposition."

Opposition leaders say they have nothing to do with the rebels. Chad's government also accuses Sudan of backing the rebels, a charge Sudanese officials deny, even though the rebels have their bases on Sudanese territory.

Chadian rebels accused rebels from Darfur of having helped defend Mr. Deby's presidential palace during the fiercest fighting on Saturday and Sunday.

The rebels withdrew from the Chadian capital earlier this week, but had said they plan to launch another assault.

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