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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chad says rebels attack second southeastern town

N'DJAMENA, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Rebels have attacked a second town in southeastern Chad, government officials said on Tuesday, putting the country's army on alert as the insurgents appeared to be moving towards the capital N'Djamena.

Armed men attacked Am Timan on Monday afternoon, 24 hours after briefly seizing the town of Goz Beida near the Sudan border, Communication Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said.

Their movements recalled a lightning assault on N'Djamena in April, launched from the east by rebels who raced across the desert in pick-up trucks from the Sudan border. Several hundred people were killed in the capital before the army took control.

"The security forces are following the movements of these adventurers, whose objective is ... to take advantage of the fact that the towns they have besieged do not have any significant military presence," Doumgor said.

The army bolstered security in the capital overnight. A Reuters witness said there had been troop movements around the dusty streets while a tank and jeeps equipped with rocket launchers had taken up position outside the presidential palace.

"These are normal movements ... We don't need reinforcements from outside, we have sufficient means," Defence Minister Bichara Issa Djadallah told Reuters by telephone. He said he did not believe the rebels would reach the city.

"Last time was a lesson for them. This time they won't risk doing the same thing ... Our troops are pursuing them," he said.

A Western diplomat in N'Djamena said the insurgents had moved further west towards the capital since attacking Am Timan.

"N'Djamena is calm but there is a rebel presence in the centre of the country ... For the time being there has been no fighting there but it is probable that the Chadian army will take action," the diplomat said, asking not to be named.


The insurgents, calling themselves the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) -- the latest in a string of titles grouping various rebel factions -- have said they want polls to end the "catastrophic" rule of President Idriss Deby.

Deby -- who has ruled since seizing power in a 1990 revolt which also began in the east -- won elections boycotted by the opposition three weeks after the April assault on N'Djamena.

Fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, which has killed tens of thousands of people since 2003 and displaced more than two million, has often spilled over into the arid, oil-producing former French colony, and Deby's government has repeatedly accused Khartoum of backing the rebels.

But since the April attack on N'Djamena, the rebel coalition has splintered along rival ethnic and political lines. Recent clashes along the border region with Darfur have involved separate rebel groups rather than one united front.

"There are around a dozen movements which come together and fall apart periodically. It's hard to follow. There are diverse leaders and ethnicities and in principle there is not one grouping," the Western diplomat said.

One of the rebel groups, the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT), said it supported the latest uprising.

"(We) urge once again the various liberation forces to unite in order to boot Deby out of Chad," it said in a statement. (Additional reporting by Stephanie Hancock in N'Djamena and Nick Tattersall in Dakar)
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