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France moving troops to Chad

  • Story Highlights
  • 140 French troops to be sent from garrisons in Gabon
  • Mission is to safeguard French citizens, Defense Ministry says
  • Move comes in wake of reports of fighting between Chadian army, rebels
  • Rebels seek to overthrow President Idriss Deby
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- The French Defense Ministry said Friday it is dispatching 140 soldiers from Gabon to Chad's capital of N'Djamena as a precaution to protect French citizens after renewed fighting between government troops and rebels.

The ministry spokesman said concerns were raised over the safety of French citizens by reports the Chad military had been fighting a rebel force hostile to President Idriss Deby north and east of N'Djamena.

A ministry spokesman said because of rebel activity in the former French colony, the decision was made to reinforce the garrison of French troops stationed in the city to "ensure the security of French citizens."

The French move came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he is "deeply concerned at the resumption of fighting in Chad."

Ban's spokesman said he "deplores any action that could worsen the already grave humanitarian situation especially in eastern Chad where the international community is actively engaged in activities to provide relief and secure the voluntary, safe and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic."

On Thursday, after a series of armed attacks in the eastern Chadian town of Guereda, four staff members with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and 28 local and international staff members of UNHCR's implementing partners were relocated to Abeche, about 300 miles to the southwest. Local authorities do not have the necessary means to protect the aid workers, UNHCR said.

Only essential UNHCR staff remain in Guereda for the time being, operating in conjunction with refugee leaders at two camps, Mile and Kounoungou, where up to 30,000 Darfurian refugees reside.

Speaking from Abeche, UNHCR spokeswoman Annette Rehl described Guereda as "a place without law and order (where) people act with impunity." She cited car-jacking as the most pressing security concern there: "They need cars and telecommunications equipment."

The situation was brought to a head by tensions that have been brewing in the area since Monday between opposition forces and the Chadian National Army. She also referred to clashes between two ethnic groups, the Zaghawas and the Tamas, as affecting the local population.

Security concerns for refugees in Guereda remain high.

"If humanitarian workers are not around, it is impossible to provide adequate protection to the refugees," said Jorge Holly, head of the UNHCR field office in Guereda "But the situation here is getting out of control, and we also have to protect our staff and partners."

The U.N. refugee agency has 12 refugee camps, six field offices and over 200 employees in eastern Chad.

Asked when UNHCR staff would return to the camps, Rehl said, "We need to see how the situation moves, we are having security meetings. We have to see what happens in the political context. Tomorrow this could change. This is typical of Chad." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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