Chad Rebels on the Attack?
First the news came to me from two different sources. One of my fixers in eastern Chad called yesterday to say that an airplane had been shot down and â€œmy country is dangerous right now.â€ Around the same time, a source told me there were big things going on in Chad that werenâ€™t getting reported in the news.
Just last week, a French officer said Chadâ€™s rebels had no plans or ability to launch a new offensive before the rainy season shut down the Central African nation. But now Reuters is reporting battles near the border with Sudan:
Rebel forces in Chad said on Thursday they shot down a government helicopter in a fresh offensive from the east aimed at overthrowing President Idriss Deby.
But they offered to call off the advance if France and the European Union, which have supported Debyâ€™s rule over the landlocked oil producer, pressed him into holding all-inclusive peace talks with rebel groups and civilian opponents.
There was no immediate reaction from the Chadian government nor any clear independent confirmation of the rebelsâ€™ statement that their columns had pushed westwards â€œdeep insideâ€ the eastern Dar Sila region of Chad.
However, Irish troops stationed in east Chad as part of an EU protection force (EUFOR) for U.N.-run refugee camps said they had received reports of combat at Modeina near the Sudan border between rebel ground forces and Chadian government aircraft.
A spokesman for the Irish troops said two Chadian helicopters were hit by ground fire from rebel anti-aircraft guns cannon one crash-landed, while the other landed safely.
Abderaman Koulamallah of the rebel National Alliance told Reuters four rebel columns had moved westwards, hoping to topple Deby after a February attack on the capital Nâ€™Djamena failed to.
â€œWe plan to carry the war to the interior of the country,â€ said Koulamallah, whose Democratic Union for Change (UDC) group belongs to the insurgent alliance.
How big is the alleged attack? How will it affect the U.N.-led humanitarian campaign? I’ll be in Chad starting Monday, so stay tuned.
(Photo: Mother Jones)