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Daily Archives: February 5, 2008

Rebels in Chad accept ceasefire; refugees still fleeing

by Francesco Fontemaggi*

Rebels in Chad trying to overthrow President Idriss Deby agreed yesterday to an immediate ceasefire, as refugees streamed into neighbouring Cameroon by the thousands for fear of renewed fighting.
"Aware of the suffering of the Chadian people, and in line with the peace initiatives of fraternal countries Libya and Burkina Faso, the forces of national resistance have given their agreement to an immediate ceasefire," rebel spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah told AFP by satellite telephone.
In New York, the UN Security Council condemned the rebels and urged states to extend support to Deby — even as Washington warned Sudan against any support it might be offering the rebels.
The Chadian government said its forces had pushed the rebels from the capital Ndjamena after a weekend of heavy fighting that saw Deby holed up in his presidential palace.
But rebel leaders insisted they had made a strategic withdrawal, and ordered civilians to flee the city of 700,000 in anticipation of a fresh assualt.
Setting out from their bases inside Sudan, the rebels last week crossed the width of Chad — a former French colony that still hosts a large French military presence — to mount their weekend offensive.
In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday that 15,000 to 20,000 Chadians have taken refuge in Cameroon to escape fighting between rebels and government forces in Njdamena.
The figure comes from a UNHCR team that has reached the Cameroonian border town of Kousseri, 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the Chadian capital, said Helene Caux, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Geneva.
"People are still coming through. It's a continuous flow," said Caux, who added that Kousseri was "completely swamped" by refugees — some taken in by local inhabitants, others camping in the open air.
More than 1,000 foreigners, many of them French nationals, have meanwhile been evacuated from Ndjamena or are awaiting flights out.
Koulamallah, the rebel spokesman, said the tripartite rebel alliance wanted a ceasefire to be followed by "a non-exclusive national dialogue with a view to a peaceful resolution of the Chadian conflict".
He added that the alliance also wanted to see "the installation of a truly democratic political regime" in Chad, a French colony prior to 1960 that borders on Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
Koulamallah went on to accuse French military aircraft of causing "enormous" civilian casualties during the weekend, notably at the Liberte (Freedom) high school and Ndjamena's central market.
In Paris, French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck called the allegation "absolutely baseless". He said French troops in the capital had only "responded each time they were targeted or caught in cross-fire".
No death toll has been given for the fighting, but many bodies have been seen in the dusty streets, and the aid group Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has told of "hundreds" of civilians wounded.
At stake in Chad is European and US policy in central Africa and the international response to the fighting and suffering in Darfur, which lies on Chad's eastern border.
The European Union said Monday it still intends to deploy an EU military force to protect refugees from Darfur as well as Chadians and people from the neighbouring Central African Republic fleeing violence in their countries.
Commanders want the EU mission to be initially ready in March and fully up and running in May, with a total of some 3,700 European troops drawn from 14 nations, and France providing more than 2,000 personnel.
For its part Washington, which evacuated its embassy in Ndjamena, warned the Sudanese government to halt any support it might be giving the rebels in neighbouring Chad.
"We've gone directly to very high levels of the Sudanese government to say that if there is any support from the Sudanese government to these rebels, that it should end immediately," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Sudan has repeatedly denied that it is supporting the rebels. "What's happening in Chad is an internal matter and Sudan has nothing to do with it," its armed forces spokesman Othman Mohammed al-Agbash said.


Obama’s Kenyan relatives overwhelmed by media attention

Barack Obama's Kenyan relatives have been overwhelmed by the hordes of journalists descending on his ancestral village, and upset by distortions of their family story, an uncle said yesterday.
Said Obama said the family had been misrepresented in interviews with villagers claiming to be relatives, and complained that comments by the presidential hopeful's 85-year-old grandmother Sarah had been distorted by translators.
"Some days we meet 10 media houses who descend here and we cannot handle them," Obama said in telephone interview from Nyang'oma, where Barack Obama's father was born.
"It's very hectic… It's distracting us from other things that we do for a living."
Obama, the official spokesman for the family in Kenya, has put out a request that journalists set up appointments before turning up in Nyang'oma, a poor village of a few thousand people on the shores of Lake Victoria.
"We are saying 'we don't want to get crushed'. Let us know that you want to come and meet the family and let them give you the story the way it is," he said.
Some of the international news focus has zeroed in on the Obama family's Muslim roots and the widespread poverty in the village where grandmother Sarah lives modestly.
About 30 relatives of the Democratic contender live in Nyang'oma where Barack senior was born and grew up before he moved to Hawaii for his studies and later was admitted to Harvard University where he trained as an economist.
Said Obama said they were all rooting for the Illinois senator in the "Super Tuesday" contest.
"We are praying that he wins," he said.
"He has all that it takes to be president. He is someone from humble origins, coming from a multicultural family," he added.
"He is somebody who has a better view of the world than the other candidates."
The 46-year-old presidential contender was born in the United States and barely knew his Kenyan father who returned to his homeland when Barack was a young boy.
Barack Obama was given a hero's welcome during his last visit to Nyang'oma in 2006 where he visited his grandmother who does not speak English.
The relatives are ethnic Luos from a region in western Kenya that has been spared from the violence that has wracked other parts of the country following disputed elections in December, claiming 1,000 lives.