(Reuters) - Chadian rebels have pulled back from the capital N’Djamena after two days of fierce street fighting aimed at trying to topple President Idriss Deby.
Below are answers to some key questions about the conflict:
The fractious rebel movement has no clear single leader but three main groups have emerged from the shifting ethnic factions behind the anti-Deby revolt, which reignited in December 2005 after Deby changed the constitution to seek a third term.
The Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD), headed by Deby’s former Defense Minister Mahamat Nouri, emerged in late 2006 as the most powerful faction. Nouri, a charismatic leader from Chad’s black Gorane ethnic group, says the rebels enjoy support from within Sudan.
The UFDD Fondmentale is an Arab-led splinter group from Nouri’s UFDD, headed by Abdelwahid Aboud and Acheickh ibn Oumar.
The Assembly of Forces for Change (RFC) is headed by Deby’s nephews Tom and Timane Erdimi, who led a failed coup in 2004. The faction comes from Deby’s own Zaghawa tribe, which makes up the backbone of the Darfur rebellion in neighboring Sudan.
The rebels launched their raid from Chad’s eastern border with Sudan’s Darfur region, racing across 800 m (500 miles) of arid interior in days to reach the western capital, N’Djamena.
A convoy of more than 250 vehicles, most of them pick-up trucks mounted with cannons and heavy machine guns, transported 2,000 fighters. As it neared N’Djamena, the column split up to evade government forces.
The rebellion has mainly been fought in the desolate east, where the Chadian army’s air power, backed by French aerial reconnaissance, has often proved decisive. But rebels said two weeks ago they had brought down one of Deby’s Russian-made Mi-24 helicopter gunships with a SAM-7 ground-to-air missile.
Long overshadowed by the five-year conflict in Darfur, aid organizations are expressing alarm over the humanitarian crisis in eastern Chad. The parched region currently shelters 235,000 Sudanese refugees, 46,000 from Central African Republic and 150,000 Chadians displaced by violence.
A 3,700-strong European Union military mission to protect civilians in eastern Chad from the revolt and from Arab militia attacks from Darfur was due to be deployed in early February but has been postponed due to the rebel attack.
The World Food Program (WFP) has warned of a major humanitarian disaster unless the situation is resolved. Oxfam and other aid groups have withdrawn expatriate staff.
Chad, a minor oil producer, forms part of a triangle of instability at the heart of Africa, including Sudan and lawless Central African Republic. With Chad’s opposition and the rebels divided, there is no clear successor to Deby should his government fall, raising the prospect of prolonged instability.
The former colonial power, which has troops and aircraft at bases in Chad, has a long-standing military agreement to provide logistical support to the army.
The rebels accuse France of supporting Deby but President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has until now insisted it is neutral and concentrated on evacuating foreign nationals.
However, Sarkozy said on Monday that if the U.N. Security Council adopts a resolution by France backing Deby’s government, French forces could intervene more directly. He has ordered French Mirage fighters to survey the border area with Sudan to ensure there is no “foreign incursion”.
Chad’s government accuses Sudan of financing and arming the rebel groups, which Khartoum strongly denies. Deby blamed Khartoum for launching the last rebel raid on his capital, in April 2006.
Many analysts see the revolt as a proxy conflict between Chad and its eastern neighbor, the largest country in Africa, as Sudan attempts to limit Chad’s support for Darfur rebel groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM).
Sudan has accused Chad of bombing villages inside its territory, while N’Djamena has claimed the right to pursue rebels across the border.
Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Pascal Fletcher