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Friday, December 30, 2005

Chad rebels say they joining forces to fight Deby

DAKAR, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Chad rebel groups opposed to President Idriss Deby said on Friday they had formed a military alliance to try to overthrow him, increasing pressure on the Chadian leader who accuses Sudan of backing the insurgents.

Eight anti-Deby groups, including one formed by Chadian army deserters and another which attacked an eastern border town in Chad this month, agreed in a joint communique to pool manpower and weapons to "free Chad of the dictatorship of Idriss Deby".

"Each of our groups had their own forces, men and equipment. Now, we'll be joining them together," Abdullahi Abdel Karim, spokesman for the Rally for Democracy and Liberty (RDL), one of the rebel groups, told Reuters by satellite phone.

Confirming the communique, which was also posted on Chad-related Websites, Abdel Karim said the alliance, called the United Front for Democratic Change, was formed during a Dec. 26-28 meeting at Modeina in eastern Chad.

It would be led by Captain Mahamat Nour, whose RDL forces on Dec. 18 had attacked the town of Adre on Chad's eastern border with Sudan. Chad said it repulsed the attack, inflicting heavy casualties, but the RDL said it had made a tactical withdrawal and would strike again.

The rebel alliance appeared to herald a growing insurgency threat to Deby, a 53-year-old former army commander who himself led an armed revolt from the east to seize power in 1990.

Since the Dec. 18 attacks, Deby has accused neighbouring Sudan of backing the rebels, a charge denied by Khartoum which says he should look for his enemies closer to home.

"Now he sees the opposition is getting stronger, he's looking for a scapegoat ... This is a Chadian problem," Abdel Karim told Reuters.

He said the new alliance could muster "not less than 10,000 men", but there have been no reliable independent assessments of the rebels' strength.


Deby, who survived a military mutiny last year, has faced growing army desertions this year, including a group which rebelled against him in September.

That group, calling itself Platform for Change, National Unity and Democracy whose French acronym is SCUD, is also part of the anti-Deby alliance.

Analysts said that while Deby faced betrayal and desertions at home, he was also threatened by spillover across the border from the festering conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

"His regime is vulnerable ... there is already a sense of his administration foundering, with competition among his followers to take over," Suliman Baldo, Africa Program Director of the International Crisis Group think tank, told Reuters.

He said the threat from the Sudanese region and from internal insurgents were entwined because the rebels used Darfur, about the size of France, to shelter and regroup.

"This is where people go to pick up arms, train and come back to attack from," Baldo added.

Deby is from the Zaghawa ethnic group which lives in both Chad and Sudan. After the 2003 revolt in Darfur against the Arab government in Khartoum, Sudanese Zaghawas are among the ethnic Africans targeted by Arab militia backing Sudan's government.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the Darfur violence and Deby's reputation among his own clan followers has also become a casualty as they accuse him of not doing enough to help Sudanese kinsman under attack by Arab militia known as janjaweed.

Showing nervousness over security, Deby reshuffled his military top brass in November, two days after gunmen raided army bases in N'Djamena. In October, he had dissolved his Republican Guard and created a new personal security force.

Analysts believe the need to pay for increased security is also partly behind Deby's move to scrap a landmark law safeguarding oil profits for future generations, allowing his government wider access to oil revenues.

Chad's parliament approved the oil reform on Thursday, earning a rare public rebuke from the World Bank.
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