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Chad Rebels Forecast Offensive

Independent Online
Near El Geneina, Sudan - Chadian rebel chief Timan Erdimi sits in the shade of a mango tree near a dried-up wadi in western Sudan, charting out a strategy to topple the government in neighbouring Chad. "When everything is ready we will launch the war," Erdimi tells AFP near El Geneina, a wild and lawless territory in Darfur close to the border with Chad populated by UN peacekeepers, Sudanese army troops and local militias. Sitting cross-legged, coiffed in a turban and sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee, Erdimi would look like a Chinese wise man were it not for the military fatigues he dons and the armed fighters who surround him. He was elected in January to head the Union of Forces of the Resistance (UFR) - an alliance of Chad's main eight rebel groups who merged into one movement with a single political and military command. The alliance came into being months after rebel groups launched an offensive on the Chadian capital Ndjamena in February 2008 that almost toppled the regime of President Idriss Deby. But the rebellion was repulsed as it neared the gates of the presidential palace with the help of France, as cracks appeared in the ranks of the rebels. "There never has been a spirit of unity like today," says Erdimi, a nephew of Deby and his former chief of staff until 1996. "Things are ready on the political and military fronts," he adds, dismissing rumours that divisions are already threatening the very existence of his movement. Around 100 fighters, machine guns slung across their shoulders, surround Erdimi, who is in his mid-50s. Some are slouched in four-wheel-drive vehicles which bristle with weapons, including rockets. The Chadian rebels are using El Geneina in the strife-riddled border region of Darfur as their back-base, as they await an opportune moment to launch another strike on Ndjamena, about 1 000 kilometres away. "Almost 95 percent" of Chadian rebels are in Sudan, says General Balla Keita who heads the joint UN-African peacekeeping force UNAMID in West Darfur. Erdimi acknowledges that political divisions among the rebellion in 2008 forced his fighters to leave Ndjamena although they had "won the war" but he stresses that the tide has now turned and the time for attack is nearing. The fighters, he says, were "very unhappy to have left Ndjamena in 2008. They had won the war but the politicians (within the rebellion) were divided. "Now the politicians have reached an agreement and they are in a hurry," to launch an offensive, he said. But the rainy season that spreads from mid-May to the end of September means military operations could be slowed as the dried-up wadis turn into rivers. Western observers believe that the Chadian army has mobilised on the other side of the border and is ready to confront the rebels. "The Chadian army has been reinforced over the past year," one said, speaking on condition of anonymity. But Erdimi is confident in the strength of his men. The rebellion "has more (fighters) that Deby and they are much more motivated that Deby's men," he says. Erdimi's plans, once he topples Deby's regime, "is not democracy," he says. His priority is to develop government institutions. On Tuesday Chadian rebels claimed they had killed about 15 soldiers in a battle near Birak in east Chad over the weekend, but a government official denied there had been any such clash. UFR spokesperson Abderaman Koulamallah said in Ndjamena that they had killed about 15 government soldiers in the clashes and destroyed two vehicles with rocket-propelled grenades. Troubled neighbours Chad and Sudan restored full diplomatic relations in November after a six month hiatus caused by mutual accusations of supporting armed rebels groups operating in and around Sudan's border region of Darfur. But Erdimi insists that his men have no links to the Sudanese army and do not need Khartoum's blessings to attack Ndjamena. "We are not back-up troops for the Sudanese army," he says. - Sapa-AFP
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