, LIBREVILLE, Dec 3 – Seventy-one people, including 65 rebels, were killed last week in clashes between insurgents and government troops in northeastern Central African Republic, a CAR spokesman said Thursday.
"After the violent clashes between the two camps, the CAR military regained control of the town of Birao," CAR government spokesman Fidele Ngouandjika said in a statement read over state radio in Bangui.
"Government troops suffered six dead, 65 rebels were killed and there was major material damage," he added, stressing that there were no civilian fatalities.
But the rebel Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) dismissed the toll provided by the government, saying it was not in a position to provide a precise tally.
"This toll is inaccurate. The Chadian army, along with CAR government troops, are currently hunting CPJP elements," CPJP spokesman Bevarrah Lala said in a telephone interview from Libreville.
Last week, the rebels attacked Birao and forced government troops to pull back. CAR authorities said government troops later recaptured the town, but the rebels said they withdrew after fighting in which Chadian troops were involved.
The Chadian troops had crossed the border in pursuit of their own rebel forces who were said by CAR authorities to be among the group in Birao, the most important town in the region.
But in his statement Thursday, Ngouandjika said the CAR government troops had fought without the help of foreign soldiers during their counter-attack, "contrary to the mendacious allegations broadcast by … foreign radio stations and (news) agencies to manipulate international opinion."
The CPJP said Chadian troops equipped with tanks had entered Birao from their Chadian base in Abeche, in eastern Chad, about 600 kilometres (370 miles) to the northwest.
CPJP spokesman Lala said Chadian soldiers, accompanied by CAR troops had been pursuing the CPJP rebels since Tuesday.
CAR troops and rebel forces had clashed and the government troops had been responsible for a massacre of civilians.
A senior CAR officer also told AFP of the intervention by Chadian troops, something the head of the Chadian armed forces, General Alain Mbaiodenande Dionadji also confirmed to AFP.
He said they had exercised their right to pursue Chadian rebels over the border.
For the rebels, Lala said: "We left Birao so as not to provoke a massacre of the civilian population."
Government troops had fired indiscriminately in villages and civilians rather than the rebels had been the casualties, he insisted.