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Sudan cuts ties with Chad

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan severed ties with Chad on Sunday, accusing its neighbor of backing a rebel assault on the capital and raising the possibility of new border clashes that could worsen Darfur’s humanitarian crisis.

A curfew was lifted in Sudan’s capital, but residents hunkered inside, and security remained tight a day after the government repulsed an unprecedented assault on Khartoum by Darfur rebels.

In the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, frightened residents emerged slowly to find buildings pockmarked with bullet holes and streets littered with charred cars. Women draped in flowered gowns stepped around huge armored personnel carriers, inspecting the damage. The city’s main market was closed, and residents milled around on side streets, staying off main roads lined with checkpoints.

A curfew was lifted in Khartoum but not in Omdurman, where police told state media that more than 300 rebels were arrested and many more had tossed away their camouflage uniforms to blend in with urban civilians.

State television paraded images of captured and bloodied fighters, including the body of a man it said was an aide to a top rebel leader. Army generals received congratulations in the streets and women praised them with traditional ululating screams.

But a leader of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement, which carried out Saturday’s attack, said his fighters were still in Omdurman and would ultimately bring down the Khartoum regime.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir blamed Chad for Saturday’s attack and immediately cut ties with the neighboring country.

“These forces come from Chad, who trained them. … We hold the Chadian regime fully responsible for what happened,” al-Bashir, wearing military fatigues, said in a televised address. “We have no choice but to sever relations.”

Al-Bashir said he reserved the right to retaliate against Chad’s “outlaw regime,” raising the specter of a border war between two countries that have long traded accusations over support for each others’ rebels.

Saturday night’s assault – the first rebel offensive anywhere near the capital – puts greater pressure on the Sudanese government to deal with the situation in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been chased from their homes since 2003.