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Opposition to Boycott Elections in Troubled Chad

Government forces in Chad say they are being confronted by a new rebel offensive in the east of the country. And, opposition parties say they will boycott elections scheduled for next month.

Army officials in Chad say senior army commander General Abakar Youssouf Mahamat Itno has died of injuries suffered earlier this week during clashes with rebels in the east of the country. News reports from the region say the general, who is President Idriss Deby's nephew, was surprised by rebels during an offensive he was leading.

Clashes between rebels and government forces in the east resumed last week, when Mr. Deby announced he had thwarted a coup attempt. Supported by several high-level army defectors, the rebels say they have killed some government troops. The rebels say they are opposed to the president's bid for a third term in office in elections on May 3.

The renewed fighting has forced thousands of refugees, fleeing from neighboring Sudan back across the border into Sudan's Darfur region. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that young men are being forcibly recruited from the refugee camps to join rebel militias.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders in Chad's capital, Ndjamena, have announced they are boycotting the presidential poll.

Mr. Deby came to power in a coup in 1990, and won elections twice in 1996 and 2001. Last year, the constitution was changed to allow him to run for a third term.

Opposition groups say the constitution and electoral regulations need to be reviewed before any elections are held. Mr. Deby will be competing against four other candidates, two of whom are members of his government.

One opposition politician who is boycotting the elections is Gali Gatta. He says Chad is far too unstable for a presidential poll.

"We think there is a profound political crisis in Chad," he said. He added that military sources have said that a military coup may be in the offing and all groups need to reach a consensus before fair elections can be held.

Chad civil rights activist Dobian Assingar told VOA Mr. Deby's legitimacy will be seriously undermined, if he goes ahead with the polls.

He said that Mr. Deby's power over Chad is eroding. He added that the president is in control of the country, but that a major rebellion is now under way. Assingar wonders how long Mr. Deby will be controlling the country. He noted that Chadians urgently need a national dialogue to find a lasting solution.

Chad began pumping crude oil in 2003. But the World Bank suspended loans in January, saying Mr. Deby was not living up to an earlier agreement to set part of the oil funds aside for future generations.