Soldiers, rebel groups collide in eastern Chad

Soldiers and rebels have clashed in eastern Chad , an aid worker and a rebel said. Government officials were not immediately available for comment on the reports of major fighting late Monday. The Chadian government had claimed last week that rebels who have been massing in the east since October were behind an alleged attempt to assassinate President Idriss Deby.

Soldiers attacked rebel positions from the east and west, setting off the clashes that continued through Monday evening, the aid worker said late Monday on condition of anonymity because the worker was not authorized to speak to the media. The fighting, which involved rebels of the Rally for Progress and Justice and the Foundation for Change, Unity and Democracy, took place at Hadjar Marfaine, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) northeast of the capital, N'djamena, the aid worker said.

Rebels killed 150 soldiers, a rebel of the Foundation for Change, Unity and Democracy said on condition of anonymity because the rebel was not authorized to speak to the media. The rebel, who called from a satellite phone, declined to give casualties on the rebel side, saying they were still assessing the situation.

President Deby traveled to Hadjar Marfaine Monday, joining Defense Minister Bichara Issa Djadallah who has been there since Sunday, a military official familiar with the two officials' travels said on condition of anonymity. Deby and Djadallah's trips to eastern Chad have not been made public.

Last week, Communications Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said that a group of renegade soldiers had planned to shoot down a plane carrying Deby back from an official visit to Equatorial Guinea . Doumgor said that among the people who had planned the attempt is Abakar Tolli, a leader of the Rally for Progress and Justice.

Since October, scores of defectors from the Chadian army have joined a number of Chadian rebel groups based in the area bordering Sudan 's western region of Darfur , the site of an uprising by Sudanese groups. Darfur is seen as having the potential to spark unrest across the region. In December, rebels clashed with security forces, leading to the death of than 300 people, mainly insurgents, in Adre. The town is on the border with Sudan , some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of N'djamena, reports the AP.

N.U.