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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gunnmen Enter Eastern Chad, Beat Aid Workers

N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Armed rebels and unidentified gunmen entered two towns in eastern Chad at the weekend and beat two foreign aid workers after rebel factions abandoned a month-old ceasefire, humanitarian staff said on Sunday.

The unrest underlined deteriorating security in the area where European Union peacekeepers hope to start deploying in the next few weeks to complement a hybrid U.N./African force planned for Sudan's violent Darfur region, over Chad's eastern frontier.

Leaders of Chad's two biggest rebel movements, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) and the Assembly of Forces for Change (RFC), said late on Friday they would break a ceasefire as of Sunday -- a month to the day since they groups signed a Libyan-brokered peace deal with President Idriss Deby.

Just a few hours later, on Saturday, several UFDD vehicles entered the town of Hadjer Hadid, 70 km east of the eastern city of Abeche, triggering a security alert and prompting French and Chadian helicopters to take off in a vain pursuit.

Aid workers in the area said the rebels exchanged fire with government security forces in Hadjer Hadid, though UFDD leaders said their fighters entered the town only to get water and left shortly afterwards without launching any attack.

"We will attack Deby's forces if they continue to provoke us," UFDD Secretary General Abakar Tollimi told Reuters by satellite phone on Sunday.

French forces based in Abeche stepped up security at the town's airport late on Saturday following the attack, aid workers in the city said.

Humanitarian work was suspended until further notice at two refugee camps near Hadjer Hadid, a U.N. official in Abeche said.

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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