Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 19:50 UK

Fighting erupts in eastern Chad

Chadian troops (archive image from June 2008)
The outcome of the fighting could not be verified independently

Heavy ground fighting between Chadian troops and rebels has erupted in the east, a day after the government said a rebel offensive had been defeated.

The government said its forces had killed at least 100 rebels and some of its own soldiers had also died in an hour of combat near Am Dam.

It said the rebels were retreating and looting as they left.

But a rebel spokesman told AFP news agency the army had been "routed" and the rebels were moving forward.

Am Dam is 110km north of Goz Beida and more than 100km south of Abeche, the two towns used as bases by most relief agencies working in eastern Chad to help 450,000 refugees and displaced people.

The Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) group, which was formed in January, says its ultimate goal is to reach the Chadian capital, N'Djamena.

Rebels have been trying to topple President Idriss Deby for more than three years.

The government said earlier it had repelled a rebel "invasion", bombing rebel forces after they moved in from the border with Sudan.

It is difficult to assess the true situation on the ground, the BBC's Celeste Hicks reports from N'Djamena.

'Very violent'

"The first ground clashes have just taken place at Am Deressa, 10km south of Am Dam," Communications Minister Mahamat Hissene told reporters.

BBC map

"The government forces gained the upper hand and mopping-up operations are continuing."

Earlier, he told the BBC that the government was "in a position to stop the invasion".

Asked why aid workers were asking to be evacuated from the area, he replied: "We don't have military in all the towns and the NGOs [non-government organisations] are deployed even outside of these towns and are not secured by the army."

UFR spokesman Adberaman Koulamallah told AFP that "violent fighting" with troops had begun at 0500 (0400 GMT)

"It was very violent," he said.

"The fighting lasted for hours. Government forces are completely routed. We occupy Am Dam. The objective is still Ndjamena."

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