Chad's army chief says his soldiers have routed rebels, stopping their
latest offensive in the east of the country, but the rebels say it is a
strategic retreat. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa
bureau in Dakar.
Chief of army staff General Touka Ramadan Kore says Chadian soldiers had won a decisive victory on the latest battleground of Am-Zoer, pushing back rebels, killing more than 100, and taking dozens prisoner. He says several soldiers had been killed.
There was no independent confirmation of the army report.
Dakar-based rebel spokesman Makaila Nguebla says rebels retreated from Am-Zoer early Wednesday as part of a tactical move.
He says rebels are moving into towns and cities in eastern Chad to get supplies and then leaving them, in a cat and mouse game with the army to spread it thin. He says they plan to move through more eastern towns in the days ahead.
Nguebla admits there are divisions within the rebels, but says even the unarmed opposition is divided in Chad. He says all opposition shares a common goal of removing long-time President Idriss Deby and bringing about what he called effective democracy.
Mr. Deby and his army staff call the rebels "mercenaries backed by Sudan". Sudan accuses Chad of backing rebels active in the Darfur conflict. Journalists saw vehicles with inscriptions of Darfurian rebels in Am-Zoer.
A security analyst at the U.S. based Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Bjoern Seibert, does not believe the rebels, who have bases in Sudan, aim to go to N'Djamena, as they did earlier this year when they nearly toppled Mr. Deby.
He says he thinks their aims are different at this point.
"They can show they can operate there, they can defeat government forces to some extent in the east, but they can operate pretty freely," said Seibert. "They also make it clear to [Mr.] Deby that their strength is mobility and speed, where the government forces are not stationed. So the government forces have to come out of their defensive camps and meet the rebels. So it is going to be much harder to fight the rebels in these cities, then actually if the rebels were to attack the government in their camps."
Seibert says it is impressive how the rebels have been able to resume their war campaign against Mr. Deby's forces, despite the presence of European peacekeepers known as EUFOR.
"The other message I think the rebels are sending and that is more to the political side to what EUFOR is doing, they are not attacking refugees," he said. "They make it clear that even when there was a small firefight with the Irish this was a mistake and this was not on purpose. So they are very careful in not antagonizing EUFOR."
Mr. Deby has accused EUFOR of cooperating with the rebels. But European officials say they are respecting their mandate, which is strictly to protect hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people from conflicts in both Chad and Sudan.
Chad's army has also received help from the French military which has a permanent base in the capital N'Djamena as part of post-colonial agreements. French soldiers also make up the majority of the EUFOR contingent.