Scores Flee as Fighting Rages in Chad

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Government forces and rebels clashed for a third day in Chad's capital Monday with gunfire and shelling heard throughout the city, a UN official said.

Thousands of people were fleeing the city. Casualties from the fighting in N'djamena were believed to be high, and the violence threatened peacekeeping and aid operations intended to stabilize a wide swath of Africa that borders the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan.

"Fighting and shelling has started again in N'djamena," said Helene Caux, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency. She spoke from Geneva and said staff on the ground in Chad had told her that it was impossible to move around the city.

The rebels arrived on the capital's outskirts Friday after a three-day push across the desert from Chad's eastern border with Sudan. Riding on 250 pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, 1,000 to 1,500 insurgents entered the city early Saturday, quickly spreading through the streets and reportedly trapping President Idriss Deby in his palace.

But by Sunday, government forces were strafing rebel positions with helicopter gunships and bombarding them with tanks.

"The Chadian army fought very vigorously and continuously regained ground around the presidential palace until yesterday afternoon, when the rebels announced they were leaving the city," said French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck earlier Monday.

France, the former colonial power, has a long-standing military presence in Chad and was evacuating hundreds of foreigners from the country.

The UN Security Council on Monday strongly condemned the rebel attack on Chad and gave a green light for France and other countries to help the government repel the rebel force. The statement was approved after Chad's ambassador sent an appeal for help.