N'DJAMENA, Chad -- The Chadian military said it had halted an advance by rebels coming from neighboring Libya, but the rebel group said Sunday that it was pressing ahead after the American and British embassies warned of a possible assault on the capital in the coming days.
Army spokesman Azim Bermandoa Agouna said that clashes had taken place late Saturday in the northern province of Kanem and that the rebel column from Libya was "totally decimated."
"Congratulations to our valiant defense and security forces," government spokesman Cherif Mahamat Zene tweeted, describing the rebel forces as "mercenaries coming from Libya."
It was not immediately possible to independently corroborate the claims given the remote location where the fighting took place. A warning issued to British citizens, though, said there were believed to be two rebel convoys -- one moving from the town of Faya toward the capital, N'Djamena, and another seen headed toward the town of Mao.
The action comes as partial results from an April 11 election showed long-term President Idriss Deby maintains a strong early lead.
The Front for Change and Concord in Chad countered the government's statement, saying the military had abandoned their camp leaving a large amount of weaponry behind. The Libya-based political-military group, which is made up of army dissidents, has been fighting to overthrow Deby since 2016. The rebels crossed into Chad on April 11, the government said in an earlier statement.
The rebels accuse Deby of suppressing the opposition ahead of the presidential election, in which the 68-year-old leader was seen as likely to extend his three-decades-long rule and tighten his grip on country
In a statement Sunday posted on its Facebook page, the group said its forces had begun "the liberation of Kanem region."
"We assure all residents of the city of N'Djamena, including diplomatic staff, United Nations agents, organizations, partners, and expats working in Chad to stay calm and avoid unnecessary travel outside the city of N'Djamena," said the statement issued by spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tabul.
The U.S. State Department on Saturday ordered nonessential diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Chad to leave along with the families of American personnel stationed there, saying armed groups appear to be moving on the capital.
The central African nation has had a long history of rebellions during the 30-year reign of Deby. In 2019, French armed forces intervened in northern Chad and launched airstrikes at an armed group coming in from Libya. In 2008, clashes reached the gate of the presidential palace before Chad's army repelled rebel forces and pursued them eastward toward the Sudanese border.
Chad, a former French colony, is home to France's military Operation Barkhane, which deploys troops across the continent to fight Islamic extremism. The Chadian military also has played a major role in that effort.
Chadian soldiers also have long battled militants from the extremist group Boko Haram, which started in northeastern Nigeria and spread to neighboring countries. Some 330,000 Chadians are internally displaced -- the majority in the volatile Lake Chad region where Boko Haram fighters are most active.
Information for this article was contributed by Katarina Hoije of Bloomberg News (TNS).