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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Chad government forces, rebels clash in the east

N'DJAMENA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Chad government forces fought with rebels opposed to President Idriss Deby on Sunday in the east of the landlocked central African country, a rebel spokesman and government military officers said.

"There were clashes today," the rebel spokesman, Abdoulaye Abdelkarim, told Reuters by telephone.

He said a force of more than 2,000 fighters led by his brother, Mahamat Nour, who heads a military faction of the rebel United Front for Democratic Change (FUC), was on the move in the Guereda region in eastern Chad, which borders with Sudan.

"The objective is to head towards N'Djamena," he added, referring to the Chadian capital which lies some 700 km (440 miles) to the west of the latest reported fighting.

Government military officers in N'Djamena, who asked not to be named, said clashes between government forces and rebels had taken place at Aram Kolle, 65 km (40 miles) east of the town of Biltine.

"Government forces are in control of the situation," one officer said.

Neither side gave details of casualties.

FUC rebels launched an assault on N'Djamena in April in which hundreds of people were killed, just three weeks before an election which handed Deby a fresh five-year term in the arid, oil-producing former French colony. The attack was beaten off by government forces.

The FUC alliance had brought together armed rebels and Chadian army deserters opposed to Deby. But it has been split recently by bitter infighting between backers and critics of Nour, himself a former captain in the Chadian army.

After the April attack on N'Djamena, Deby broke off relations with neighbouring Sudan, accusing it of supporting the rebels, but he has since mended ties with Khartoum.

Chad is sheltering more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled from the violence-torn Darfur region of Sudan. (Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Dakar)
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