February 5, 2008 / 4:51 PM / 11 years ago

Battle-scarred Chad capital is no "place of rest"

N’DJAMENA (Reuters) - Charles de Gaulle Avenue, the Chadian capital’s main business street, bears the scars of war.

Bodies lie on a street of the Chadian capital N'djamena, February 5, 2008. France threw its weight behind Chad's President Idriss Deby on Tuesday, saying it could intervene against armed rebels whose weekend attack on the capital threatened to trigger a fresh humanitarian crisis. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

Decomposing bodies, some covered with paper or cardboard, buzz with flies in the dust of what is normally a busy commercial hub of N’Djamena, whose name means “place of rest” in the local Arabic.

“I’m tired of war,” said Ahmat Moussa, who was searching for a missing relative in the wreckage-littered avenue.

He paused to study the blackened carcass of a military pickup truck — the vehicle of choice in Chad’s fast-moving desert war — lying in front of the fire-gutted offices of Chad’s national airline Toumai Air.

“All we want is peace and security. Chad has too much war,” Moussa added, recalling the succession of conflicts, rebellions and coups which have shaken this landlocked former French colony in central Africa since independence in 1960.

Passers-by held hands to their noses as they passed the bodies. A severed human leg lay in one part of the avenue.

Many of the shops and businesses had been looted, and discarded debris spilled out onto the road. Burned out military pickups lay strewn in the road in front of business buildings marked by fire, shrapnel and bullets.

The avenue’s trees — trunks raked by bullets, branches shattered by explosions — bear silent witness to the ferocity of the weekend’s fighting, in which Chadian rebels riding armed pickup trucks clashed with army troops, helicopters and tanks.

The two-day battle for N’Djamena ended late on Sunday when the rebels melted away. The government of President Idriss Deby, who held out against a rebel siege of his heavily fortified presidential complex, said its forces drove them out.

The rebels told local residents they would be back.

FRENCH MILITARY

Ambulances and government military vehicles packed with soldiers, all heavily-armed and some with their heads swathed in the enveloping turbans favored by Chadian fighters, raced by.

Not far away, three Chadian army tanks guarded the approaches of the presidential complex. A column of armored vehicles flying the French flag rumbled past, a reminder of France’s military presence in its former colonial possession.

Critics of Deby say this French military might, including Mirage fighter jets that hold the balance of power in a conflict fought over vast swathes of mostly flat desert and scrub, keeps the president, himself a former rebel, in power.

People carrying their belongings are seen through a star-shaped cut as they cross Ngueli bridge over the Logone-Chari river into Cameroon fleeing fighting in N'Djamena February 4, 2008. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

“We don’t want any rebels. We’ll keep them out ... Deby’s the only president, he’ll be here until he dies,” said Cisse Saladin, a security guard.

Not all N’Djamena residents felt so defiant. Thousands have fled with their families and belongings across the bridge over the Logone-Chari river that leads into neighboring Cameroon.

“Instead of paying for development, we buy weapons. That’s what plays the Chadian Music,” one resident told reporters over the weekend as machine gun and heavy weapons fire rattled and pounded the riverside city.

Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Jon Boyle

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