Rebels Press Attacks in Chad's Capital and East

By Stephanie McCrummen and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 4, 2008

NAIROBI, Feb. 3 -- Heavily armed rebels trying to overthrow the government of Chad battled near the presidential palace in the capital Sunday and later claimed to control a town on the eastern border with Sudan, raising concerns about the 240,000 refugees from Sudan's ravaged Darfur region who live along the border.

A Chadian official in the dusty town of Adre said Sudanese helicopters and Antonov bombers had helped the rebels attack government positions. The Bush administration also said Sudan was responsible for the rebels' attempted coup.

Sudanese officials called the allegations "baseless."

"Chad's problems are homegrown, and they are very old," Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said Sunday. "But whenever there is a rebellion against the one dominant group or tribe, the easiest thing for them to do is to accuse Sudan."

Speaking with Radio France International, a Chadian official called the reported attack on Adre "a declaration of war."

On the second day of fighting, France called an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to seek backing for a statement that would call for "support by all necessary means" for the Chadian government. Such language traditionally is used to justify military force. But the proposal ran into opposition from Russia, which contended it went too far.

The State Department ordered the evacuation of all nonessential government employees from the capital, N'Djamena, and the U.S. Embassy abandoned its compound near the presidential palace, which had been taking indirect fire.

French special forces evacuated 16 staff members from the U.S. Embassy as well as officials from the German Embassy, France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, told the Security Council behind closed doors.

The U.S. Embassy has set up temporary quarters at N'Djamena's airport, said State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth. "The situation is too unsettled to predict the outcome," he said.

The U.S. and French ambassadors to the United Nations issued statements supporting the government of President Idriss D¿by, as international concern mounted over the prospect of a rebel takeover that analysts say would be a foreign policy victory for the Sudanese government.

"We call on the Sudanese government to end the support immediately, to restrain rebel forces in Chad and to end the fighting that adds to the instability in the region," said Greg Garland, the State Department's spokesman for Africa.

But it remained unclear whether the government or the rebels -- a coalition of mercenaries, disgruntled government ministers and the president's own nephew -- were in control.

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