April 15, 2006

Chad capital on edge fearing more rebel attacks

By Daniel Flynn

N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Chad's President Idriss Deby held a
victory rally attended by thousands of supporters in the
sun-baked capital N'Djamena on Saturday but many nervous
residents feared rebels fighting to topple him may return.

Insurgents bent on ending Deby's near 16-year rule over one
of the world's poorest countries launched their most daring
strike yet on Thursday, slipping into the dusty city at dawn
before loyalist forces fought them off.

Chad, which says the fighting killed more than 300 people,
has accused Sudan of backing the rebels and cut diplomatic ties
with Khartoum on Friday, shutting its borders and threatening
to stop sheltering refugees from Sudan's Darfur region.

Deby criticized the international community for failing to
heed his warnings that the Darfur crisis was spreading and that
Sudan was a threat to the security of central Africa as a

"I have not stopped warning about the danger which has been
advancing in the sub-region but the international community has
been deaf to the fact that Chad is an essential bridge for
stability in sub-Saharan Africa," he told the rally.

Sudan has denied helping anti-Deby rebels.

Chad also threatened to cut off oil production unless it
was given access to revenues frozen in January by the World
Bank in a spat over how petro-dollars are spent. Deby has said
Chad needed the money to help bolster national security.

Chad's oil minister said output would halt on Tuesday
unless the Exxon Mobil-led consortium operating in the country
paid at least $100 million to circumvent the freeze. Exxon
Mobil said it was talking to the government about the demand.


Minibuses and mopeds ferried Deby supporters, some draped
in Chadian flags and dancing to music on vehicle roofs, to see
him speak. But many residents feared the jubilation was

"We never thought the rebels would make it to the capital
and we're still scared. We don't know if the situation will get
worse," said Moussa Mohamat Djaddaye, whose 18-year old brother
was caught up in Thursday's fighting and lost his left leg when
a grenade exploded.

The government paraded what it said were 160 captured
rebels and 14 vehicles at a rally in N'Djamena on Friday but
nerves are still on edge, with hospitals overflowing with
wounded civilians and buildings in the center of town
pockmarked from the attack.

"There have been quite a lot of amputations. The wounds are
principally from bullets," said Duccio Staderini, head of the
Medecins Sans Frontieres-Belgium aid mission in N'Djamena,
which is treating 110 wounded civilians in two hospitals.

Casualties in blood-soaked bandages lay in field tents
outside a main hospital. Soldiers in pick-up trucks wearing
camouflage and desert scarves patrolled the streets outside.

The charred wreckage of a government jeep stood near the
twisted gates of the National Assembly building, which bore the
brunt of the rebel attack. Residents said three soldiers burned
to death in the vehicle. Bullet marks peppered the ground.


Confusion over where the rebels were and what they planned
to do next did little to calm nerves. A government declaration
of victory was met by statements from the rebels that their
withdrawal from the city had been tactical.

"People are getting back to normal life. But they are
worried. There is a war of words. The rebels are still getting
their message across," said Begoto Oulatar, editor of weekly
newspaper N'Djamena Hebdo.

Local newspapers said the rebels had had to ask directions
to the presidential palace when they arrived in the city.

Former colonial power France, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan and the African Union have strongly condemned any attempt
to overthrow Deby by force. The United States urged Chad, Sudan
and other African countries to try to halt the violence.

But high-level diplomacy was scant reassurance for many.

"This is the first time in my life I have seen war here. It
seems the rebels are still close. I don't think they'll stop
now because they want to see the end of Deby," said Ibrahim,
22, a bloody bandage wrapped around a shrapnel wound on his

(Additional reporting by Claire Soares in N'Djamena and
Matt Daily in Houston)