Chad rebels say to resume fight, Deby's promises unmet

PARIS Thu Mar 21, 2013 4:42pm EDT

Chad president Idriss Deby smiles after arriving at Khartoum Airport on an official visit February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Chad president Idriss Deby smiles after arriving at Khartoum Airport on an official visit February 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

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PARIS (Reuters) - Chadian rebels said on Thursday they would take up arms again against President Idriss Deby after he failed to negotiate with them since they agreed to stop fighting more than two years ago.

The Union of Forces of Resistance (UFR), a rebel coalition, put down their weapons after Chad and Sudan agreed to end their proxy wars in 2010 by ceasing their support for insurgents in each other's country.

The two nations agreed to work together to rebuild their border areas, a move seen aimed at bolstering security and credibility before impending elections in both nations.

However, speaking by telephone from the Qatari capital Doha, Chadian rebel leader Timane Erdimi told Reuters that after two years of waiting for talks they had no other options left.

"We're tired of waiting. Our supporters on the ground are tired and are pushing us to fight given Deby's obstinate refusal. We must resume fighting."

The former French colony, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been rocked by humanitarian crises over the last decade including conflicts in the east and south, drought in the arid Sahel region, and flooding.

Deby seized power in a 1990 military coup and has since won a series of elections whose fairness has been questioned by international observers. He has dismissed those allegations and defended his record.

Erdimi was the leader of one of several rebel groups in a 2008 rebel coalition which attacked the Chadian capital N'Djamena in February that year, besieging Deby in his palace.

The rebels eventually withdrew, accusing former colonial power France, which has troops and planes based in Chad, of backing Deby. Paris said its forces gave intelligence, medical and logistics support to the Chadian army, but did not participate directly in combat.

Deby's foes say three polls since the coup were unfair and call him corrupt and dictatorial.

"The problems cannot be resolved unless there are negotiations between the two sides," Erdimi, who has been exiled in Doha since Sudan normalized ties with Chad, said.

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"There was a deal between Chad and Sudan, but not us. We were asked to put down our weapons and begin negotiations with Deby. As soon as he saw we had sincerely put down our weapons he refused to begin talks."

Erdimi, a nephew and former aide of Deby, said that not all the rebels had disarmed and were now massing between the Sudanese-Chad border town of Tissi in the southeast to the Libyan border in the north.

"The UFR had about 6,000 men in July 2010 and 300 vehicles. Even if we have only 50 percent of that now, it's a good number," he said.

While it remains unclear how much support the new rebellion has, the rebels may have chosen to renew fighting at a time when Deby's and France's army is stretched and preoccupied elsewhere.

Weapons are also readily available in the Sahara region since the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Chad's army has 2,400 of its best troops fighting Islamist rebels alongside French forces in northern Mali and a further 600 troops stationed in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The decision has won him international plaudits in recent months - particularly from Paris, raising his profile, as have his efforts to push for peace talks between the government and rebels in neighboring CAR.

"Deby is not a democrat. If he were we wouldn't have to pick up arms," Erdimi said. "He wants to restore his reputation through the Mali intervention.

"We aren't against the intervention and we oppose terrorism, but we fear the Mali intervention will make people forget the dictatorship and misery that Chadians are living under Deby's regime."

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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