Hundreds of civilians have died in fierce fighting between rebels and government forces here in Chad's capital, Red Cross officials said Tuesday, as the insurgents agreed to a cease-fire.
Rebel leader Mahamat Nouri, leader of the biggest of three rebel groups in a coalition, told BBC radio Tuesday afternoon that the coalition accepted a Libyan-brokered cease-fire. Nouri said he did not think that the government had accepted. It was not possible to reach the other rebel leaders, and there was no word from the government.
Chad's government told the military of France, a former colonial power, that it still was fighting rebels using "air power" outside N'Djamena, said French military spokesman Capt. Christophe Prazuck.
Nouri said French Mirage jets were bombarding his forces, but France denied that it was involved in the fighting, though it has threatened to give the government military backing. French intervention helped stave off a previous attack by the rebels, who accuse President Idriss Deby of corruption and embezzling millions in oil revenue.
In the capital Tuesday, corpses of more than 10 soldiers and civilians were sprawled on Avenue Mobutu, a main thoroughfare. The charred hulks of several tanks and pickup trucks, used by both sides in the fighting, littered the streets.
Chad Red Cross officials said hundreds of civilians had died, mostly of bullet wounds.
More than 1,000 people had been injured, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
Most downtown shops and buildings have been looted. Farther from the center, the state broadcasting station and the parliament building were stripped by rampaging looters.
The Presidential Palace, which backs onto the Chari River, was off limits, the entrance blocked by tanks and tree limbs. Guards patrolled outside.
Soldiers blocked the two bridges across the Chari River, which divides N'Djamena from neighboring Cameroon, barring the escape route for civilians, and possibly rebels.
As many as 20,000 people had fled across the river, the United Nations refugee agency said. The Red Cross said the number grew steadily earlier Tuesday and could have reached 30,000.