Rebel Fighting, Refugees Cause Turmoil in Chad

Soldiers patrol Abeche i i

hide captionThe dusty city of Abeche is virtually a garrison town, bristling with soldiers armed to the teeth. They patrol the streets in Toyota pickups with rockets strapped like bushels of local millet to the side of their vehicles.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
Soldiers patrol Abeche

The dusty city of Abeche is virtually a garrison town, bristling with soldiers armed to the teeth. They patrol the streets in Toyota pickups with rockets strapped like bushels of local millet to the side of their vehicles.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
A Chadian government soldier rides from his base near the border with Sudan. i i

hide captionA Chadian government soldier rides from his base near the border with Sudan.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
A Chadian government soldier rides from his base near the border with Sudan.

A Chadian government soldier rides from his base near the border with Sudan.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Rebels in the Sahara Desert nation of Chad have been battling government forces for the past few weeks in a country known for its cycle of rebellion and strife. The rebels have vowed to oust the president, but army forces in Chad are fighting back. The whole country is jittery with the sense of insecurity that reigns in the east, where fighting has been fierce.

Days after the latest round of clashes with Chadian rebels, loyalist government troops break into spontaneous morale-boosting battleground chants. They're checking out the devastation after fighting with rebels about 100 miles east of the regional capital Abeche, close to the border with turbulent Darfur in neighboring Sudan. The soldiers are showing off rebel munitions and vehicles they say they captured or destroyed.

"We haven't eaten for three days. We don't even have water to drink. But morale is high," shouts one young soldier. To loud cheers from his fellow soldiers, he adds that government forces will defeat the rebels they say are financed by Sudan.

Chad and Sudan regularly trade accusations that each is backing the other's rebels. Chadian rebels have intensified their military campaign against President Idriss Deby in recent weeks, charging him with misrule. Deby himself seized power in a military coup 16 years ago and has since faced periodic armed opposition, the most sustained this past year.

Despite official declarations that the army has routed the rebels, it's clear the Chadian military suffered losses and heavy casualties. In Abeche, the hospital is crawling with government troops. Soldiers with gunshot wounds — some hopping or dragging their feet in pain, some on crutches, others in wheelchairs — are being escorted out of the hospital for evacuation to the capital, Ndjamena. The more seriously injured have already gone.

The stop-go rebellion is just one of the major challenges facing this impoverished country.

Chad is host to more than 200,000 Sudanese Darfur refugees. Growing numbers of Chadians have been displaced internally by the Darfur conflict, which has spread across Sudan's borders.

Unrest and uncertainty may have fueled recent frenzied looting of humanitarian warehouses by civilians in Abeche. The rebels briefly captured the town late last month.

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