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By Phuong Tran
Dakar
20 February 2008

After weeks of delays, European peacekeeping forces are preparing to travel to Chad's troubled eastern border with Sudan. While awaiting the arrival of the mission, Chad rebel leader Mahamat Nouri spoke to VOA about rebel activities following their retreat from the capital earlier this month. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Austrian army soldiers stand in formation during a farewell ceremony before their departure to Chad, 29 Jan 2008, in Vienna
Austrian army soldiers stand in formation during a farewell ceremony before their departure to Chad, 29 Jan 2008, in Vienna
A group of more than 50 Irish officers are expected to arrive in Chad's capital N'djamena Thursday. They are then scheduled to travel 900 kilometers by land to join an advance unit of 200 U.N.-EU troops already in place in east Chad.

The troops are being called on to protect hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced by years of inter-ethnic fighting along the borders of Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic. A dozen humanitarian camps have been caught in fighting among rebels and governments in all three countries.

Mahamat Nouri, ex-minister to Chad Presidents Hissene Habre and Idriss Deby and now leader of the rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, told VOA the rebels welcome the troops as long as they do not interfere with fighting between rebels and government forces.

Otherwise, Nouri says there will be problems.

The peacekeepers, expected to eventually number 3,700, face questions about their role. U.N. officer Kemoral Jadjombaye in the eastern Chad town of Abeche told VOA his concern is that the peacekeepers will be confused with humanitarian workers. That could complicate humanitarian assistance as long as there are lingering concerns about the peacekeepers' neutrality.

Rebel leader Nouri says the rebels do not consider the arriving European forces, known as Eufor, their enemy.

He says the rebels also do not consider the French, who had supported President Deby with transportation during the rebel attack earlier this month, to be their enemy.

Nouri says the rebels are only focused on toppling President Idriss Deby from power. He accuses the president of human rights abuses and refusing to share power outside his Zaghawa tribe.

A recently-formed coalition of three major Chad rebel groups tried to overtake the capital earlier this month, but retreated to the southeast after hours of fighting. The fighting further delayed the arrival of the European peacekeeping forces.

Rebel leader Nouri says it was a good decision the rebels decided to withdraw. He says it is best that the rebels pursue combat outside the capital. He says the rebels are regrouping, and will continue with their military operations to topple President Idriss Deby.

Rebel leaders from four of the biggest groups signed a peace treaty with the president last October. But fighting broke out months later as rebels disagreed on the terms of disarmament.

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