Sudan-backed Chad rebels seize capital from several directions after fierce fighting with government forces

According to some reports, troops of the United Military command of the rebel alliance were already in the presidential palace and ransacking parliament in Ndjamena Saturday, Feb. 2. A French military source later said Chadian government forces had beaten back the rebels surrounding the presidential palace.
French defense minister Herve Morin said France remains neutral in the Chad conflict. He spoke after President Nicolas Sarkozy conferred with cabinet members in Paris.
debkafile: It is up to French president Nicolas Sarkozy to decide whether to let Sudan get away with a major victory in Chad or intervene with a large paratroop, helicopter and warplane force to oust the rebels. Sarkozy called an urgent meeting of cabinet meetings in Paris to discuss France’s options.
The rebel incursion surprised the French and US embassies before they completed preparations to evacuate their staff and nationals. Fighting near the airport prevented their departure. The 1,500 French expatriates were warned to stay indoors. It also began the week an EU peacekeeping force was due to start deploying advance troops in Chad and the neighboring Central African Republic to protect civilians and Darfur refugees. Their mission has now been suspended.
Saturday, some 2,000 rebels roared into the capital in trucks armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles, advancing amid fighting from rear bases in Sudanese Darfur.
Friday, 140 French troops were sent from Gabin to Ndjamena to protect French citizens in the former French colony. Concern for the security of Sudanese Darfur refugees is acute, after armed attacks in the Chadian town of Guereda put UN and other international staff to flight and relocate to the southwest in Abeche. The UN refugee agency has 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.
The rebel leaders, Timan Erdimi, Mahamat Nouri and Abdelwahid Makaye, joined forces and formed their coalition in mid-December after a peace pact with Deby broke down. They declared war on France and other foreign forces. They are under the influence of Khartoum, which is opposed to the deployment of European troops in Chad and UN forces in Darfur.
African Union leaders have strongly condemned the rebel attacks and vowed to reject any “unconstitutional change” of regime in Chad. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was concerned by the fighting.

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