LIBREVILLE — Chadian troops with tanks on Tuesday took control of the northeastern town of Birao in the Central African Republic after it was abandoned by rebel forces, the government and rebels said.
"We have evacuated" Birao, said Bevarrah Lala, spokesman of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), reached by telephone from Libreville, six days after the rebels took the town.
"Since yesterday (Monday) night, there has been ground fighting and ... the town has just been taken back by the Chadian army" from across the border to the north, Lala added.
The Central African government confirmed later Tuesday that Birao was no longer in rebel hands.
"The situation is under control and we deplore, while waiting for an exact toll, the loss of five men," Jean-Francis Bozize, defence minister and the son of President Francois Bozize, told AFP.
According to Lala, Chadian troops crossed the border in pursuit of their own rebel forces who were said by the Central African authorities to be among the group in Birao.
The Chadians "have tanks" and "entered Birao from their Chadian base in Abeche," in eastern Chad, about 600 kilometres (370 miles) northwest of Birao, according to Lala.
Late Tuesday the head of the Chadian army, General Alain Mbaidodenande Dionadji, confirmed to AFP that Chadian troops had intervened in Birao in northeast CAR in pursuit of rebellious Chadian soldiers and for border security.
"The Chadian armed forces exercised their right to pursue to eliminate the remainder of the 'mercenaries' who have involved themselves with unidentified adventurers who were holed up in Birao," the general said.
Since November 26, the Centrafrican authorities have claimed to have regained control of Birao, the most important town in the region, which fell to the CPJP in heavy fighting two days earlier.
But Lala said that no Centrafrican troops had been able to reach Birao because "with the rains, the roads are cut."
He was unable to give any casualty figures from the conflict. Last week, the CPJP said that during the fight for the town, it killed about a dozen men and took 11 prisoners, including the local military commander and his deputy.
African Union president Jean Ping condemned the CPJP for the deadly attack and called on Central African politicians to work to ensure successful elections early next year.
Government spokesman Fidele Ngouandjika on Friday said the CPJP forces were supported by Chadian rebels who had been forced to flee the Darfur region of Sudan.
The CPJP has not signed peace accords with the government of President Bozize, unlike most rebel movements in the desperately poor, landlocked nation, which has been pursuing a peace process since 2008.
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