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French Fighter Drops Bomb Near Chad Rebel Column

Bloomberg | April 14 2006

A French Mirage fighter dropped a bomb near a column of Chadian rebels heading for the capital N'Djamena as a ``warning'' to insurgents seeking to overthrow President Idriss Deby, a French official said.

The bomb fell ``in the sand'' yesterday and didn't cause any casualties, a French Defense Ministry spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said by telephone today.

Rebels of the United Front for Democratic Change, or FUC, battled government forces in N'Djamena beginning at dawn today before being repelled, President Deby said in an interview with Radio France International. The attack was ``suicidal,'' he said.

``The situation in N'Djamena is under the control of the defense and security forces,'' Deby told RFI.

Attacks by the FUC rebels who are based along the eastern border with Sudan have increased before presidential elections scheduled for next month. Deby, who seized power in 1990, is standing for re-election in polls that most opposition parties are boycotting. The main rebel forces are about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from N'Djamena, the French spokesman said.

Deby is a Zaghawa, an ethnic group that represents about 1.5 percent of Chad's 10 million people, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported on its Web site. His grip on power has been weakened by defections of former allies in recent months.

``It's dissatisfied elements of former Deby allies who are powerful figures in this rebellion,'' Jason Mosley, Africa editor at the Oxford Analytica, said in a telephone interview today.

Rebel Advance

Deby's nephew General Abakar Youssouf Mahamat Itno, who was Chad's senior army officer, died last month in fighting against rebels operating along the Sudanese border.

Deby may not remain in power beyond next week, Mosley said.

``The speed with which the rebel advance has moved towards N'Djamena indicates that their objective is to take Deby out,'' he said. ``They are not going to stop just because they didn't take the National Assembly this morning.''

Landlocked Chad produces about 170,000 barrels of oil a day and ships it in a pipeline that runs through Cameroon to the Atlantic Ocean. Exxon Mobil Corp. owns 40 percent of the project Petroliam Nasional Bhd. 35 percent and Chevron Corp. the rest.

In January, the World Bank cut off $124 million in loans to Chad after the central African nation changed its laws that ensured revenue from its oil pipeline would boost spending on education, health care, social services and rural development.

The changes, approved on Dec. 29 by Chad's parliament, will weaken the country's ability to reduce poverty, the World Bank said. The government has argued it needed to amend its Petroleum Revenue Management Law to boost revenue.

Casualty Claim

Yesterday's air attack by French planes caused an unknown number of casualties, said the FUC rebel representative in France, former Chad Foreign Minister Laona Gong, Agence France-Presse reported.

``We deplore numerous civilian victims of French bombings in the towns of Adre and Moudeina,'' AFP cited Gong as saying.

Jean-Francois Bureau, the chief French Defense Ministry spokesman, denied that there had been any attack on towns.

``There were no casualties,'' he said. ``We are not involved in any military action. We are there to protect our nationals.''

About 1,500 French nationals live in Chad, a former French colony, and the French army has 1,250 soldiers in the country, the Defense Ministry said.

Deby came to power in 1990, when he successfully ousted then- President Hissene Habre after an offensive on N'Djamena from bases in Sudan.

In recent months, Deby has accused the Sudanese government of backing the rebels who have operated from Sudan's western region of Darfur.

Mosley of Oxford Analytica said that while the crisis in Chad distracts international attention away from the civil war in Darfur, there is no hard evidence that the government in Khartoum is arming the Chadian rebels.

``Just because they are able to set up shop in Darfur doesn't mean the Sudanese government is arming them,'' Mosley said. ``Operating in Sudan doesn't make you a Sudanese proxy.''

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