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Chad Forces Attack Rebels

Chad's government says it has launched a new offensive against rebels, sparking more instability in the border region with Sudan's troubled Darfur province. Chad's opposition says the country's finances are collapsing, despite new oil wealth.

Chad government officials have told reporters that at least one rebel command post was attacked Monday in the mountains of Hadjer Marfain, near the eastern border with Sudan. They said the rebel base had fallen and several rebel vehicles were destroyed.

Chad's SCUD rebel group confirmed the attack, but said their fighters had successfully defended the base and had killed dozens of government troops. The government has not confirmed any deaths on either side. None of this information could be independently verified.

The reports of military action followed what President Idriss Deby said was an assassination attempt against him last week.

The government said it has arrested 100 military officers and soldiers suspected of involvement in a plot to shoot down Mr. Deby's airplane on his return from a visit to Equatorial Guinea.

After 16 years in power, Mr. Deby is seeking a new term in elections on May 3. A recent amendment to the constitution makes him eligible for a third term.

But since September he has suffered several high-level defections from members of the military, who say they are opposed to a third term. Some of these have joined the rebels in the east of the country.

Chad journalist Addangolo Mustafa says many of those close to Mr. Deby are opposed to a third term.

"There is an amendment to the constitution, which allows the president to stand for a third term," he explained. "We heard that some of the heads of his bodyguards do not agree with this. Even the opposition political parties here in Chad do not agree that the head of state should stand for a third term."

Mr. Deby has accused the Sudanese government of supporting efforts to overthrow him. Khartoum denies this charge.

SCUD leader Yaya Dillo Djerou told Reuters news agency Mr. Deby is attacking to show he is still in control of the country and to boost his credibility internationally.

Journalist Mustafa says the rebels will try to get rid of him by force if he refuses to go peacefully.

"The armed movements are now saying that if he refuses to release power after finishing the second term, he will be overthrown," he added. "That is why there are various armed movements operating in the eastern part of Chad."

Despite new oil wealth, Chad is suffering from increasing unemployment and high inflation. The government has canceled laws meant to secure oil revenue for poverty alleviation, saying it needs to spend more on security.

University professor and member of the opposition UDR party, Cettebaye Cyrille, says the country is in a downward spiral.

"I think that the situation is not good," said Cettebaye Cyrille. "It is getting more and more difficult. And there is no change. The civil servants are suffering a lot. There is no money to pay them."

The fighting in the east of Chad is affecting Sudanese refugees, who had crossed the border to escape from the Janjaweed militias in Sudan's western Darfur region. Aid workers say thousands of these displaced people have fled back to Sudan because of the fighting in Chad.