Rebel leaders call for cease-fire as Chad coup attempt falters

JOHANNESBURG, S. Africa – Chad’s rebel leaders called for a cease-fire Tuesday as their attempted coup against President Idriss Deby continued to falter in the face of military resistance and international condemnation. Red Cross officials in Geneva said the recent fighting had caused more than 1,000 casualties.

With the rebels confined to the outskirts of N’Djamena, the capital, Deby’s government said it had the situation under control. France, which has 1,900 troops in Chad, a former colony, declared willingness to use them to protect the government, as allowed by a U.N. Security Council resolution approved Monday.

As fighting eased, humanitarian groups warned that conditions continued to deteriorate for hundreds of thousands of Darfuri refugees in Chad’s east and for tens of thousands of N’Djamena residents who fled the city in recent days for neighboring Cameroon.

Human rights groups in Chad, one of the world’s poorest nations, denounced what they called increasingly aggressive tactics by Deby’s government, including detention of unarmed opposition leaders.

The human cost of the attempted coup remained uncertain. Red Cross officials who estimated more than 1,000 casualties had no word on how many of those were fatalities. The Associated Press quoted Chadian Red Cross officials on the scene as saying that hundreds of people had died.

The rebels say they are trying to overturn a brutal dictatorship; Deby’s government maintains they are backed by Chad’s eastern neighbor Sudan and that their attack represents a declaration of war. Foreign analysts say the fighting is in part a struggle to gain control of Chad’s oil production.

Last week, the rebels raced west across the Chadian desert on hundreds of machine-gun mounted trucks to reach the capital, where they opened fire on Deby’s palace. The attack faltered on Sunday, and on Monday France received U.N. authority to aid the government.

On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned of possible military action if the rebels resumed fighting: “If France must do its duty, it will do so … Let no one doubt it.”

Rebel leaders announced interest in a cease-fire.

“Conscious of the suffering of the Chad population and respecting the peace initiatives of fraternal countries Libya and Burkina Faso, the forces of national resistance give their assent to an immediate cease-fire,” rebel spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah said on Radio France Internationale.

Mahamat Nouri, head of the rebel UFDD faction, told the radio: “Our biggest handicap is the French army, not Idriss Deby. Without France, we are ready to chase Deby away today.” He said his group was “not ready to return to Sudan.”

Deby did not immediately agree to the cease-fire offer.


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