A Chad rebel group yesterday declared a "state of war" against French and other foreign armies, in an apparent warning to a new European force soon to deploy in the region.
In a statement on its Web site, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, or UFDD, urged the Chadian people to "mobilize" against any foreign troop presence.
"From now on, the UFDD considers itself in a state of war against the French army and all other foreign forces in national territory," said the statement, signed by the group's spokesman, Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye.
The UFDD, a union of several rebel groups opposed to President Idriss Deby, has clashed sporadically with the Chadian army since 2005 and last year launched a failed attack on the capital.
The announcement came a day after a battle in eastern Chad between the group and the Chadian army, the statement said. It said French planes flew over the scene of the clash but did not intervene.
"Bringing diplomatic, strategic and logistical aid to the tyrant Idriss Deby is an act of hostility and will be treated as such," the statement said.
The announcement could further hinder the already-delayed deployment of the European Union's military mission to Chad to protect refugees fleeing violence in the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan.
The approximate 4,300-member force, under Irish command but drawn largely from France, was supposed to begin deploying next week in Chad and the Central African Republic along their borders with Sudan.
But Irish Defense Minister Willie O'Dea said Friday that the first EU troops would not arrive until January at the earliest because the mission was still lacking some necessary equipment.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the EU mission would continue regardless of the rebel threat. Speaking at a Franco-Italian summit in the southern city of Nice, Sarkozy insisted that "the operation continues."
France already has 1,100 troops in Chad, a former French colony. It is expected to contribute about half of the soldiers to the EU force, which is headquartered in Paris.
The EU force is supposed to complement a 26,000-member United Nations-African Union force destined for the Darfur region itself.
Four years of bloodshed between ethnic African rebels and Arab militias allegedly backed by the Arab-dominated government of Sudan have left an estimated 200,000 dead and driven 2.5 million from their homes in Darfur.