Chad refugees return to capital

Government troops patrol Ndjamena as rebel forces say they control central towns.

    Chad's military is patrolling the streets of Ndjamena after rebel forces left the capital [AFP]

    "The soldiers there told us that there is no possibility that the rebels can come back," he said.
     
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    Chad's civilians caught
    in the crossfire

    But some reports have suggested the rebels, who attacked the city last week, are regrouping in the east of the country.

    On Saturday, a spokesman for the coalition of three rebel groups, said that they controlled the towns of Mongo and Bitkine in the centre of the country and would hold their position to lure government troops from the capital.

    "We expect soon to seize control of other towns," Ali Ordjo Hemchi told the Reuters news agency.

    "Our objective remains to topple the regime in Ndjamena, but we want to avoid fighting inside towns," he said. "We want to make the army leave the capital so we can repeat our victory of last week."
     
    Return to the capital
     
    Many of Ndjamena's residents fled to neighbouring Cameroon to avoid the fighting and thousands remain there.
     
    On Friday, the UNHCR and UN's World Food Programme (WFP) began to airlift supplies to the refugees in Cameroon.
     
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    The humanitarian groups said they expected to distribute food for up to 30,000 people.
     
    But with poor conditions for the refugees there and a degree of stability again imposed on their own capital, some have chosen to return.
     
    "We know that the rebels are only 200km away. And we are afraid to go, but we can't stay here. There is nothing to eat," one woman, returning from Cameroon to Chad, told Al Jazeera.
     
    "We're so desperate that we prefer to die in Chad than to stay in this misery."
     
    In Ndjamena, the city's main market, which burned down in the fighting, reopened on Friday with vendors selling from improvised stalls and mats laid out on the ground.
     
    Petrol was available from makeshift vendors as most service stations were damaged or destroyed by gunfire or rocket propelled grenades.
     
    But residents have been confronted with higher prices.
     
    Possible regional conflict
     
    Also on Friday, a senior official warned the UN Security Council that a reported proxy war between Sudan and Chad, fought through rebel groups in each country, could broaden into a regional conflict.
     
    Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping, told the UN Security Council that the situation had been exacerbated by the recent violence in Ndjamena.
     

    Markets in Ndjamena reopened as residents
    arrived back in the capital [AFP]

    "The potentially destabilising regional implications have been highlighted by numerous media reports of Chadian rebel movements receiving support in Sudan ... and Sudanese rebel movements that have acted in support of the Chadian government," he said.
     
    "Continuing accusations by both governments of their support for rebel movements on each side of the border increase the climate of mistrust, fuel tensions between the two countries, and once again demonstrate the potential for a conflict of international dimensions in the area."

    However, Vincent Mugombe, an expert on central African affairs, told Al Jazeera that Sudan played a major role in the conflict in Chad, but was not the core problem facing the country.

    "The problems are fundamentally democratic ... in 2005, Deby changed the constitution and gave himself a third term. In 2006, he held a very sham election without the opposition taking part," Mugombe said.

    "You had mass defections from the army at that time and all these leaders that are now leading these rebel groups running to Sudan."
     
    Sudan and Chad share a border long Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
     
    Chad hosts almost a half-million Darfur refugees and Chadians displaced by the spillover from the violence. Both countries charge the other supports rebel groups fighting against their governments.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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