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Chad Rebels Vow to Push on Despite Peacekeepers


Rebels in Chad are vowing to push on their latest offensive against the Chadian government, despite recent altercations with European peacekeepers. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Rebels said they had one group of fighters about 100-kilometers south of the main eastern city of Abeche on Sunday, while there were few clashes around Goz Beida, the scene of recent fighting.

A Dakar-based spokesman for the National Alliance rebel coalition says the rebels are very mobile.

Makaila Nguebla says some fighters are still around Goz Beida, while others are pushing toward the capital, N'Djamena, which he says remains the objective.

He called French soldiers helping the army of Chadian President Idriss Deby with surveillance enemies. France has a permanent military presence in its former colony, and its forces helped the Chadian army push back a rebel offensive that nearly toppled Mr. Deby earlier this year.

Nguebla dismissed statements by France's Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner saying France does not support long-time leader Mr. Deby. Rebels say they want all-inclusive political dialogue to organize new elections and end years of corruption in the oil-rich, mostly desert country.

The Chadian army responded to the latest rebel offensive by sending out reinforcements east, and flying out helicopters to bomb rebel positions. The Chadian government says the rebels are mercenaries being paid by Sudan, a charge the rebels and Sudan deny.

Rebels say Chad's army is being helped by Darfurian rebels, charges that are also denied. Repeated mediation efforts between Chad and Sudan have all failed.

Rebel spokesman Nguebla says that in the recent confusion European peacekeepers started firing at National Alliance positions, and that he regrets what he called this lack of neutrality.

A spokesman for the European peacekeeping force said it was fired upon by unidentified armed elements on Saturday and that it fired back.

A statement then said the firing took place when peacekeepers were caught in the cross-fire involving unidentified armed elements and the Chadian army. The peacekeeping force is made up mostly of French soldiers, but also includes peacekeepers from other European countries.

The force is meant to protect hundreds of thousands of refugees from the nearby Darfur conflict, as well as hundreds of thousands of displaced Chadians. It also has troops in the Central African Republic.

Goz Beida in eastern Chad is a main center for international relief camps. Aid workers said no one had been injured in the camps during the recent fighting, but that there had been heavy looting of their offices in Goz Beida. They said residents were cheering on Saturday when the rebels briefly took over Goz Beida.