Chad and the Central African Republic are accusing each other of invading one another's territory after a gunbattle along their border Tuesday left at least 22 dead. The skirmish, the latest in a series of confrontations over the past few months, comes as the two countries and Sudan prepare to hold a summit to discuss border issues in the region.
Chadian officials say unidentified mercenaries crossed the border from the Central African Republic Tuesday and attacked Chadian forces, who returned fire. In the end, the officials say more than 22 people were killed. It is unclear how many casualties each side suffered.
Officials in the Central African Republic in turn accused Chadian forces of entering 15 kilometers into Central African territory this week.
The skirmish came as leaders prepare for a summit that will bring together the Central African Republic's President Ange-Felix Patasse, Chadian leader Idriss Deby, and Sudan's Umar al-Bashir in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The meeting will focus on border issues among the three countries.
The meeting was to be held this month but was postponed in the days before Tuesday's raid. No new date has been set.
Central African presidential spokesman Prosper N'Douba tells VOA the events of this week provide even more reason to open a dialogue.
The presidential spokesman says that holding the summit is more necessary than ever to help settle differences and establish peace along the border. He says that in the current confused situation, it is absolutely necessary that a team of neutral observers, be it from the African Union or the United Nations, be dispatched to the scene in order to see what is really happening, because, Mr. Ndouba says, both sides are launching accusations against each other.
The Central African Republic has repeatedly accused Chad of harboring dissidents who want to topple President Patasse.
Tensions have erupted on several occasions along the border since last year, when former Central African army chief General Francois Bozize escaped into Chad after he was accused of leading a coup attempt against the Patasse government.
The revolt drew the involvement of Libya, whose troops bolstered Mr. Patasse's forces.