Chadian rebels attack refugee town near Sudanese border

June 15th, 2008 - 5:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, June 15 (DPA) Rebels attempting to overthrow Chadian President Idriss Derby have attacked a town near the border with Sudan, opening fire on European Union (EU) peacekeeping troops in the process. Fighting broke out Saturday in the town of Goz Beida, where over ten thousand refugees who have fled fighting in Sudan’s restive Darfur province are being housed by the United Nations, the BBC reported.

The battle was believed to have been heavy, although it was not clear how many casualties there were.

A spokesman for the Irish Army confirmed that Irish members of the EU protection force (EUFOR) came under fire but said the none of his men were injured.

“It is not clear who fired upon our troops,” Commandant Gavin Young said in a statement. “Irish troops briefly returned warning fire from their armoured vehicles.”

The situation was now “calm but tense,” Young said.

Prior to the battle, the United Nation’s humanitarian news service IRIN said aid workers in the area had seen two columns of rebels moving east and that the local authorities had fled.

Hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees live in eastern Chad.

The clash came after rebels Thursday claimed to have shot down a government helicopter and damaged another as they launched an offensive from the east of the country.

Chadian rebels have been fighting for two years to overthrow Derby, who they say is corrupt, and are now believed to be launching a push they hope will take them right into the capital of N’Djamena.

The fighting is unlikely to ease tensions between Sudan and Chad, which the UN has said are fighting a proxy war by supporting rebel groups on each other’s soil.

Chad’s Communication Minister Mahamat Hissene said that Sudan was supporting the rebels because it wanted to overthrow the Chadian government in order to “make sure that the Sudanese government can implement its policy in Darfur without any other country seeing what is going on.”

Hundreds of thousands are believed to have died in the long conflict between rebels and government forces in Sudan’s western Darfur province.

Sudan recently accused Chad of supporting Darfur rebels in an attack on the Sudanese capital Khartoum and severed economic ties. Chad responded by closing its border with Sudan.

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