US embassy to withdraw staff as Chad rebels advance

Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno greets supporters as he leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station in N'djamena on April 11, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

The United States has ordered its non-essential staff in Chad to leave the African country as rebel fighters approached the capital on Sunday after early election results showed President Idriss Deby on course to extend his three-decade rule.

Deby, who seized power in 1990 at the head of an armed rebellion, is a staunch ally of France and the United States in the fight against Islamist militants in the arid Sahel region.

"Due to their growing proximity to N'Djamena and the possibility for violence in the city, non-essential US government employees have been ordered to leave Chad by commercial airline," the US state department said in a statement.

The British government on Saturday urged its citizens to leave because, it said, two armed convoys from the rebel Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) were advancing towards the capital.

One convoy was seen approaching the town of Mao, about 220 km to the north of N'Djamena, it said.

Large numbers of heavily armed Chad security forces were patrolling the streets of the capital on Sunday morning, a Reuters witness said.

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Chad's army said it had destroyed a rebel convoy in the north of Kanem province on Saturday afternoon.

"The column was totally decimated," army spokesman Azim Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement late on Saturday.

Partial provisional results have given Deby a strong lead in the April 11 poll despite signs of growing discontent over his handling of the nation's oil wealth.

Deby, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, has successfully put down a string of rebellions since taking power, sometimes with military assistance from France.

French air strikes helped the Chad army to repel a rebel incursion from Libya in February 2019.

FACT, which is based on Chad's northern frontier in Libya, attacked a Chadian border post on the evening of April 11, just as polling stations were closing.

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On Friday FACT said it had seized a garrison of Gouri in the country's north.

"The enemy, despite the logistical support of the French Air Force, was totally routed," FACT spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol said in a statement posted on Facebook.

France's defence ministry on Sunday declined to comment on whether it was involved.