US orders non-essential personnel out of Chad over fears of rebel attacks on capital

As long-serving president Idriss Deby seems set for election win, fighting has broken out between army and rebels in country’s north

The US has ordered its non-essential diplomats out of Chad over fears of insurgent attacks on the capital, as early election results show president Idriss Deby is poised to continue his three-decade rule of the African nation.

With armed groups appearing to be advancing on the capital, N’Djamena, the US State Department on Saturday ordered non-essential diplomats and families of American personnel to leave the country.

“Armed non-governmental groups in northern Chad have moved south and appear to be heading toward N’Djamena,” the department said in a travel alert.

“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.”

Four tanks and several soldiers were stationed at the northern entrance of the N’Djamena on Saturday evening, where military vehicles were continuing to drive towards the fighting, an AFP journalist said.

Chad’s army said on Saturday it had “completely destroyed” a column of Libya-based rebels that attacked the country on 11 April, the day of the presidential election.

Soldiers were searching for the last of the rebels, army spokesman Azem Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement read out on national television.

“The adventure of the mercenaries from Libya has ended, as announced,” communications minister and government spokesman Cherif Mahamat Zene announced on Twitter.

On Saturday, the UK government said on its travel advisory website that two rebel convoys were heading towards N’Djamena. One had passed the town of Faya, some 770km (478 miles) north-east of the capital, and another was seen approaching the town of Mao, around 220km to the north.

The Tibesti mountains near the Libyan frontier frequently see fighting between rebels and the army. French air strikes were needed to stop an incursion there in early 2019, while in February 2008, a rebel assault reached the gates of the presidential palace before being pushed back with French backing.

Meanwhile, partial provisional results from the 11 April election show Deby with a strong early lead, winning a majority in all but one of the 51 departments announced so far. He has secured a plurality in the other, with 61 departments remaining, according to the Independent National Election Commission (CENI).

Kilmapone Larme, head of logistics at the commission, said they had still not received more than 30% of results.

An ally of Western powers in the fight against Islamist militants in west and central Africa, Deby is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, but there are signs of growing discontent over his handling of the nation’s oil wealth.

Chad’s government has been forced to cut back public spending in recent years because of the low price of oil, its main export, sparking labour strikes.

Opposition leaders called on their supporters to boycott last week’s polls.

“Until midday, the polling stations were almost empty in almost all towns in the country but CENI has just concocted fictitious results to deceive Chadians,” Yacine Abderaman Sakine, the head of the opposition Reform Party, told Reuters.

“We do not recognise this result.”

Reuters, Agence-France Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report

Guardian staff and agencies

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