Am Dam is much further from Chad's eastern border with Sudan, and closer to the capital.

"Our objective is not to take towns but to clear obstacles on the road to Ndjamena," Gueddei said.

He also said that their force was strong enough to take the capital.

A rebel alliance is said to be making its way towards Ndjamena to depose Idriss Deby, the Chadian president.

 

They last attacked the capital in February and made an attempted coup in 2006.


EU troops attacked

European Union peacekeepers (Eufor) meanwhile said they returned fired after coming under attack near Goz Beida on Saturday.

The troops are deployed to the area to protect refugees, civilians and aid workers in eastern Chad.

According to Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Axelos, a spokesman, the firefight, in which no Eufor troops were injured, took place about four kilometres north of Goz Beida.   

"Engaged by unidentified armed elements, the soldiers fired  back," he said.
   
Axelos also said that UN agencies asked the European troops for assistance and that "the Eufor soldiers are currently proceeding to pick up the humanitarian workers with eight armoured vehicles".

Commandant Dan Harvey, a Eufor spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the "ongoing engagement lasted betweeen four and five hours".

"We believe there were a maximum of 800 rebels fighting," he said.

There are around 500 Irish and 70 Dutch troops from the Eufor  contingent in the region, whose mission is to protect civilians and  refugees fleeing the violence in Darfur region of Sudan, just over the border.

Gavin Young, an Irish army spokesman, confirmed that an armoured Irish patrol came under fire and returned fire during the attack.There were no Irish casualties.

He said Irish and Dutch soldiers based at Camp Ciara, the main Irish military camp near Goz-Beida, have since been providing armed escorts for aid workers caught up in the fighting to take refuge inside Camp Ciara.

'Monitoring clashes'

Young said the troops came under fire as they were monitoring a clash between the Chadian army and rebel forces.

"It is not clear who fired upon our troops. Irish troops briefly returned warning fire from their armoured vehicles. There are no Irish casualties and all vehicles are operational," he said.

Camp Ciara is home to 390 soldiers from Ireland's 97th Infantry Battalion and 60 Dutch Marines. Many of the troops arrived there 12 days ago.

The European Union is deploying 3,700 troops, including 2,200 French soldiers, to help protect Sudanese refugees and Chadians uprooted by the conflict.

Eastern Chad is temporary home to some 300,000 refugees who have fled the Darfur conflict in Sudan. The region also has camps for 187,000 Chadians displaced by fighting both locally and in Darfur.  

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies