N‘DJAMENA (Reuters) - Chad’s government says its army killed more than 100 rebels and lost nine soldiers in two gun battles in eastern Chad this week, but the rebels say they inflicted heavy losses on the government forces.
The renewed violence in the east of oil-producing Chad comes amid N‘Djamena’s efforts to see United Nations peacekeepers leave the country ahead of elections, and improving ties with Sudan, which it previously accused of backing the rebels.
“Our security forces ... completely control the entire zone,” Chad’s Information Minister Kedallah Younous said.
The army also took 80 wounded rebels prisoner in the clash, which took place around Tamassi, near Chad’s eastern border with Sudan, he said in a statement on state radio late on Wednesday.
The rebels involved in the fighting on April 24 and April 28 were from Adam Yacoub’s FPRN rebel group, which is part of a coalition of insurgents that have been fighting against Chadian President Idriss Deby’s government.
The UFR rebel coalition issued a statement after the April 24 clash, claiming the FPRN had defeated the army, inflicted heavy losses on government soldiers and recuperated weapons.
There was no independent version of events.
Yacoub’s rebels are based in Chad, but other anti-Deby forces have launched assaults on Chad from Sudan. Over the last six years, Sudanese rebels have also used Chad’s lawless east to launch attacks in Sudan’s Darfur region.
In February, Chad and Sudan agreed to end their proxy wars and work together to rebuild their border areas, a move seen aimed at bolstering security and credibility before impending elections in both nations.
Deby on Wednesday congratulated Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on a “brilliant” election win in polls held earlier this month and said the result would improve ties between the two countries.
The warming of relations between Chad and Sudan had led to talks between Chad’s government and rebels.
But the UFR rebels called on all Chadian factions to provide military support to the FPRN forces, and warned Deby against trying to use violence to resolve Chad’s problems.
This week’s violence in Chad comes as the government and the United Nations agreed on winding down the number of U.N. peacekeepers in Chad to 1,900 from a full strength mission of over 5,000.
Chad, which will hold legislative elections this year and a presidential poll in 2011, has been pushing for the U.N. force, still in the process of deploying, to shut down.
Bashir won a decisive election earlier this month but faces a delicately balanced year as Sudan’s northern and southern leaders -- who fought each other during decades of civil war -- try to tie up a list of contentious issues ahead of the South’s secession referendum.
Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood