Anti-government rebels in Chad say they resumed operations Saturday after a recent pause in fighting and have taken control of a remote town in the northeast. Government officials deny rebels have overtaken the town. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's Central and West Africa bureau.
Rebel forces with the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) say they inflicted heavy casualties on government forces and pushed them out of Ounianga Kebir, a town in Chad's remote northeast.
A spokesperson for the UFDD based in Dakar, Makaila Nguebla, says that 80 fighters in two separate columns drove out government forces Saturday at dawn.
Government officials say the attacks had only been an incursion, and that the rebels retreated to the Sudanese border without engaging Chadian forces.
The clashes took place about 900 kilometers from Chad's capital N'Djamena. Previous rebel attacks have largely targeted towns further south near Chad's border with Sudan.
The renewed rebel activity takes places less than one month after another rebel faction, the United Front for Democratic Change, signed a peace accord with the government. Officials hailed the agreement as a first step toward peace and stability.
With the renewed rebel fighting, Nguebla says the UFDD is opening a new battlefront in its fight against President Idriss Deby's government.
He says that the rebels are trying to stretch the government forces by attacking in new areas across the country.
A fractious rebel movement has been trying to overthrow the Deby government, which it accuses of gross corruption and human rights abuses, through a low-intensity war.
Clashes between the government and rebels, inter-ethnic fighting near the Sudanese border, and conflicts in surrounding countries, have swelled the refugee population in Chad to more than 300,000.
Deteriorating living conditions in refugee camps have forced the U.N. refugee agency U.N.H.C.R. to explore relocating the refugees deeper into Chad, away from the Sudanese border.
Deby has accused Sudan of arming rebels in Chad, as well as Arab janjaweed militia from Sudan's Darfur region who have mounted cross-border attacks.
Officials in Khartoum deny these accusations, and accuse Deby's government of backing anti-government insurgents in Darfur.