Govt controls Chadian capital as French troops on standby

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The French ambassador to Chad says government controlled the capital and its immediate surroundings

   NDJAMENA, February 5, 2008  - Chad's government controlled the capital and
its immediate surroundings, the French ambassador to Chad said Tuesday, as
France said it was ready to intervene militarily if need be.
   "Today, the city of Ndjamena is under (government) control, at least within
a 10-kilometre (six-mile) radius," French ambassador Bruno Foucher told
reporters in Ndjamena.
   Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno had appeared "very confident" when they
had last spoken Monday night, he added.
   French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that France, with 1,450
troops and Mirage fighter jets stationed in Chad, was ready to "do its duty"
and intervene if need be.
   France has 1,450 troops based in Chad and Paris sent an extra 150 troops to
help evacuate foreign nationals.
   "Now there is a legal decision taken unanimously by the Security Council,
and if Chad was the victim of an aggression, France could in theory have the
means to oppose such action," he said in the French coastal town of Aytre.
   "Everyone needs to think carefully about this."
   His comments came in the wake of Monday's unanimous Security Council
statement, condemning the rebel assault and calling on UN nations to provide
any support requested by the Chadian government. The document was drafted by
French diplomats.
   The rebels themselves announced a ceasefire Tuesday, as refugees poured
into neighbouring Cameroon and Nigeria,
   "Aware of the suffering of the Chadian people ... the forces of national
resistance have given their agreement to an immediate ceasefire," rebel
spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah told AFP by satellite telephone.
   Koulamallah said the tripartite rebel alliance wanted a ceasefire to be
followed by dialogue, a peaceful resolution of the conflict and "the
installation of a truly democratic political regime".
   But Deby's Prime Minister Nourredine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye dismissed the
   "Why a ceasefire? They don't exist any more. With whom would we sign a
ceasefire? ... We've got them under control," Coumakoye told the French global
TV channel France 24.
   Bodies, burned-out cars, trucks and motorcycles littered the streets.
   On the dusty sun-baked streets of Ndjamena, AFP journalists saw soldiers
patrolling in pickup trucks mounted with rockets and, in one case, an
anti-aircraft machine gun.
   Deby's government has said its forces pushed the rebels from Ndjamena on
Sunday after a weekend of heavy fighting that left dead bodies littering the
dusty streets, shops and homes looted, the national radio station ransacked,
and hospitals filled with wounded civilians.
   But rebel leaders insisted they had made a strategic withdrawal, and on
Monday ordered civilians to flee in anticipation of a fresh assault.
   Chadian authorities on Tuesday evening urged the thousands of civilians who
fled the fighting since Saturday to return since there was no longer a
   "We are asking our fellow citizens who have been worried and who were
obliged to leave the capital to return immediately," army General Mahamat Ali
Abdallah said on national television, which was back on the air for the first
time since Saturday.
   In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said 15,000 to 20,000
Chadians had fled west into in Cameroon via the border town of Kousseri, 15
kilometres (10 miles) from Ndjamena.
   "People are still coming through. It's a continuous flow," said UNHCR
spokeswoman Helene Caux. Kousseri was "completely swamped" by refugees, some
taken in by local inhabitants, others camping in the open air, she added.
   Further north, another 3,500 refugees, mostly women, children and the
elderly, had arrived in Nigeria, immigration officials and refugees said
   But the fighting meant that the deployment of a mainly French 3,700-strong
European Union military force in Chad remained suspended, although there is
already an advance party of the EU force on the ground.
   Their task will be to protect refugees from the Sudanese region of Darfur,
over Chad's eastern border, and from other parts of central Africa.
   In Washington, White House spokesman Dana Perino described the violence as
"a very troubling situation, and very serious, and we've got a lot of work to
do to help resolve the situation."
   A Russian foreign ministry statement said it was "vital to quickly
stabilise the situation in the African country to avoid the risks of extending
the conflict into neighbouring states and the region as a whole."
   More than 1,000 foreigners, many of them French nationals, have meanwhile
been evacuated from Ndjamena or are awaiting flights out.


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