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Chad Fighting Opens On New Front, Looting Increases


Chadian rebels fighting against the army and President Idriss Deby have attacked an eastern city, while pursuing their assault on N'Djamena. Rebels control parts of the capital, but have been unable to take the presidential palace. Chadian officials say government troops have stopped a rebellion aimed at ousting President Idriss Deby and have driven the rebels out of the capital, N'Djamena. The United Nations Security Council is holding emergency talks on the situation in Chad. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Chadian authorities accused neighboring Sudan of backing the attack on the eastern city, Adre. Sudanese officials denied this.

Meanwhile, Chadian rebels accused Darfurian rebels of trying to help Mr. Deby's forces in N'Djamena. Chad's army also used helicopters to fire on rebel positions around the presidential palace, which remained under government control.

The more numerous, but less equipped rebels say the government helicopters, flying high above, misfired and hit the main market and civilian areas rather than rebel targets.

Part of the market was burned down and then looted. State radio was also ransacked.

Rebels seem to be in control of western parts of the city, but some areas are without any security. There was also a jail breakout.

Residents said there were dozens of dead bodies lying in the streets, while the aid agency Doctors without Borders said hundreds of people, mostly civilians, had sustained bullet wounds.

But both rebels, criss-crossing the city, and government forces, mainly concentrated at the presidential palace, seemed to be running out of ammunition, leading to a lull in the fighting and allowing evacuations of foreigners by French forces to resume.

The former colonial power France has a permanent military base in Chad.

Hundreds of foreigners like this French family were taken under French military escort to the N'Djamena airport, before being flown to Gabon.

French forces control the airport, but rebels are threatening to attack it.

Mansour Abbas is a spokesman for one of the main rebel groups in the offensive, known as the UFDD.

He says taking the airport would prevent Chadian helicopters from using it to attack rebel positions. He also says French forces are preventing a quick rebel takeover.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin insisted French forces were there to ensure the security of French nationals.

He says the French military accord with Chad calls on it to help defend the country against foreign aggression, but that these rebels are Chadians.

He also says France decided to redeploy several Mirage jets to neighboring countries so these would avoid unnecessary damage.

Hundreds of Chadians fled by road into Cameroon, including some members of the Chadian military, according to witnesses.

President Deby is believed to be holed up inside the presidential palace. French officials said they have offered to take him out of the country, but that he has refused.

The armed forces chief of staff was reported killed during fighting Friday, as several of the Sudan-based rebel groups taking part in this assault approached the capital during a lightning advance across the desert.

Mr. Deby has been in power since a coup in 1990. The fighting has forced the postponement of a planned peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic, along the border with Sudan, in a region wracked by conflict.