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Chad rebels seek meeting with French minister

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, Apr 17 (Reuters) Rebels seeking to topple Chad's government said they had written to French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy requesting a meeting to discuss the role of French troops in the country.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said today the ministry had no knowledge of the letter.

In a statement issued late on Sunday the rebels said they also wanted an explanation for warning shots fired over a rebel column last week by French warplanes and called for joint measures to avoid clashes between rebels and French troops.

''The Chadian resistance has no intention of changing the foreign policy of the country to the detriment of the former colonial power or, more precisely, of breaking the accords signed between France and Chad,'' the rebel statement said.

''Nor do they want to harm the interests of French nationals in Chad,'' the statement said.

France has some 1,200 soldiers in Chad, mostly concentrated in a large military base at N'Djamena. The Defence Ministry said last week its aircraft had fired warning shots near a rebel column last Wednesday to signal the presence of French forces.

Colonel Jean-Luc Mansion, commander of the French operation in Chad, said his troops had tracked the column and informed Chad's government it was heading towards N'Djamena.

''I explained the situation to my military authorities in Paris who asked me to fire a warning shot,'' he told Reuters.

''We executed the warning shot, a shot which clearly showed we did not want to destroy the column, a shot to demonstrate that we were determined. Clearly the column did not stop ... but I am convinced that at that moment the rebels understood the French position,'' he said.

A ministry spokesman said French forces had not clashed with the rebels. France, which has a military cooperation accord with Chad, says it has passed on information from its surveillance flights to the Chad authorities and transported some government troops and supplies to the south of the country.

REUTERS CH RAI2233

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