N'DJAMENA, Oct 15 (Reuters) Twenty people were killed in ethnic clashes in eastern Chad after former rebel fighters loyal to the defence minister deserted their positions last week, government sources said today.
The violence between the Tama and Zaghawa communities broke out after an armed group of Tama fighters who had served under Defence Minister Mahamat Nour abandoned the eastern town of Guereda and moved to the border with Sudan's Darfur region.
They accused Chad's armed forces of trying to disarm them.
Precise information about the fighting was scarce but the sources said it appeared that Zaghawa militiamen had taken advantage of the absence of Nour's men in Guereda to settle scores with local Tama residents.
President Idriss Deby flew yesterday to Biltine, the main town of the eastern Wadi Fira border region, and instructed the local governor to travel to Guereda to try to calm the situation, the sources, who asked not to be named, said.
''There are 20 dead and lots of material damage,'' one of the sources added.
In ethnically mixed east Chad where clan rivalries run deep as in Darfur, Nour's Tama fighters have clashed in the past with militiamen of the Zaghawa clan to which Deby belongs.
The apparent desertion of the group of Nour's men, former members of the rebel group FUC (United Front for Democratic Change) which he once led, raised fears of fresh splits inside Chad's fractious armed forces at a time when Deby's government is trying to push through a peace deal with eastern rebels.
It also coincides with a recent upsurge in violence over the border in Sudan's Darfur region, where rebels, militias and African Union peacekeepers have tangled in recent clashes ahead of planned Darfur peace talks in Tripoli this month.
A European Union peacekeeping force is due to deploy in eastern Chad in the coming weeks to complement an even bigger United Nations/African Union force planned for Darfur.
Reuters SKB GC1630