Chadian army deserters who launched a failed offensive on a border town have retreated into Sudan’s remote west after heavy fighting that claimed around 100 lives, Sudanese rebels said on Monday.
Chad said its army was chasing down deserters it said launched an attack on the town of Adre on Sunday but were repulsed in the deadly clash. It also accused the Sudanese government of backing the attack.
The clashes raised tensions in Sudan’s Darfur where rebels have fought Sudan’s central government for almost three years.
A commander in the Darfur rebel National Movement for Reform and Development, which controls areas along the border, said his troops had seen the Chadian rebels retreat into Sudan.
“Some of them were moving in the direction of el-Geneina,” said Hassan Khamis, NMRD commander, referring to the main town in Darfur along the border.
Chad’s Communications Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said military operations in Adre were ongoing on Monday.
“The clean-up is continuing,” he told Reuters.
Scores of Chadian soldiers deserted their barracks in late September before regrouping near the border, and the government has accused Sudan of using the deserters to fight rebels in Darfur and of backing Chadian rebel activities.
Doumgor said army deserters allied to the rebel Rally for Democracy and Liberty mounted Sunday’s attack.
Yaya Dillo Djerou, who calls himself leader of a similar group called Platform for Change, National Unity and Democracy, said some of his men participated in Sunday’s attack.
“A few of our troops have participated in the action in Adre but it is being led by RDL,” Djerou told Reuters. “Yesterday we took control of the city,” he said. But he declined to say if they were still in control.
The deserters, also accused of attacking army bases in the capital N’Djamena, have demanded President Idriss Deby resign.
Deby hails from the Zaghawa tribe, which spans both sides of the border and is one of the main Darfur rebel tribes.
A number of Darfur rebel commanders fought in the uprising that brought Deby to power, a revolt which was launched from Sudan’s remote west, a vast area the size of France.
Doumgor said on Sunday Chadian forces would chase the rebel elements over the frontier into Sudan if necessary.
A Sudan foreign ministry spokesman denied any involvement.
African Union mediators in Darfur peace talks in Abuja said Minni Arcua Minnawi, one of two leaders who claim leadership of Darfur’s main rebel group the Sudan Liberation Army, had left the Nigerian capital to go to Chad.
“Yes, he’s traveled to N’Djamena. He told us he was on his way to Darfur. I’m not aware of what his plans are in Chad. His colleagues are still here and the negotiations are continuing,” said Sam Ibok, one of the mediators in the talks.
Sudanese army sources reported sporadic fighting in recent days, crossing over the long, porous border between the countries, but said the Sudanese army was not involved.
Both Darfuri rebels and aid workers in the region have reported large troop movements over the past two weeks near the border, with reports of Chadian troops patrolling on the Sudanese side of the border.