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Fighting in Chad, France evacuates citizens

France began evacuating its citizens from Chad after Chadian rebel forces entered the capital Ndjamena.

world Updated: Feb 03, 2008 14:33 IST

France began evacuating its citizens from Chad after Chadian rebel forces entered the capital Ndjamena.

An estimated 200 French citizens were to be brought Libreville, the capital of Gabon on the west coast of Africa, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said in remarks broadcast on France 3. The evacuation process began late Saturday.

Morin said that France wanted to remain "neutral" in the conflict in its one-time colony.

The situation in Ndjamena was unclear. Both rebels and government troops declared they had things under control. Media reports said an estimated 2,000 rebel militia had fought their way into the city.

The situation was being monitored in other European capitals. A spokesman for Germany's foreign office said in Berlin that Germany along with its European partners was prepared for a possible evacuation.

"We are watching the situation closely," a spokesman for Germany's foreign office said.

The conflict threatens to delay the deployment of 3,700 European Union troops EUFOR to help stabilise the Chad/Sudan border region. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees have fled to Chad to escape the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, western Sudan.

Chad's President Idriss Deby was still in the presidential palace, media reports said. Deby came to power in a putsch in 1990, and charges that Sudan has helped arm the rebels.

Rebels tried to oust him two years ago, but France, which has 2,000 soldiers stationed in its former colony, came to the aid of the government. Although French soldiers have not engaged in the current fighting, Paris sent another 150 soldiers Saturday to reinforce its presence.

Earlier Saturday, al-Jazeera broadcaster reported that the rebel forces were marching in the direction of the presidential palace. The sound of battle could be heard near the presidential palace.

Chadian state television has ceased broadcasting and the mobile phone network has been shut down, al-Jazeera reported.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said Friday it had evacuated most of its staff from the area of Guereda in eastern Chad.

The UNHCR team in the area said it had experienced several attacks in 72 hours, with gunmen in military uniforms breaking into its compound and threatening the guards with guns.