Thousands of civilians fled the Chadian capital N'Djamena early on Monday after rebel forces said they had pulled back from the city following two days of fighting, while the government said it had driven them out.
The Chadian government said Sunday it had quashed a rebellion aimed at ousting President Idriss Deby and driven the rebels out of the capital Ndjamena, though a leading rebel said they had only temporarily withdrawn.
"The battle for Ndjamena is over," Foreign Minister Amad Allam-Mi told France's RTI radio in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in an interview in which he angrily accused the Sudanese of being directly behind the rebellion.
A leading rebel told AFP on condition of anonymity that the insurgents had simply withdrawn temporarily to allow civilians time to leave the capital.
"People should not think that Deby has won. He is still entrenched in his bunker from which he cannot leave," he said on condition of anonymity.
The capital, which was calm late Sunday, had earlier been rocked by tank battles in the streets and helicopter air strikes.
Anti-tank and automatic weapons fire was heard around the presidential palace, where Deby has been holed up since Friday. Bodies covered with flies littered the streets and aid groups reported hundreds of wounded from the fighting.
Allam-Mi said Sudan had masterminded the rebel offensive in a bid to install its own Sudan-friendly administration in Ndjamena and "to close the window on the crisis in Darfur."
He also threatened future incursions into Sudan to pursue the rebels.
"Sudan has sent these attackers more than 700 kilometres (430 miles) to destroy out capital," he said. "If it is necessary for the security of Chad and for the defense of its integrity, we will go to Sudan."
The rebels had earlier acknowledged that they had lost some ground as Chadian army helicopters attacked a rebel column near the national radio station headquarters in the capital. They also fired at other rebel vehicles in the city.
An army unit guarded the national radio but gave up after running out of ammunition. Rebels then moved in, but witnesses said they left and looters ransacked the building and left it ablaze.
The main Ndjamena market was also looted and torched after it was hit by a missile, witnesses told AFP.
French troops patrolled zones around assembly points where hundreds of foreigners gathered, waiting to leave the country.
The French army said it had flown 580 foreigners out of Ndjamena to the Gabon capital Libreville, leaving about 320 to be taken out late Sunday and on Monday from an air base next to the main airport.
A first batch of 202 evacuees arrived late Sunday in France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy repeated his strong condemnation of the rebel assault.
The African Union has also condemned it and Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade called the conflict "a failure for Africa".
No death toll from the fighting has been given but many bodies were left in the streets, some covered in flies some with plastic sheets put over them.
The Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF -- Doctors Without Borders) aid group said hundreds of civilians had been wounded. About 400 people had fled across the western border into Cameroon, according to the UN refugee agency.
The UN Security Council began emergency talks on a declaration to condemn the coup attempt in Chad, but the talks ended late Sunday without agreement on a declaration about the fighting.
They were set to resume at 10:00 am Monday (1500 GMT), the council's current president Ricardo Alberto Arias told reporters.
Diplomats said the Russian delegation had asked for time to consult Moscow on certain parts of a draft declaration put forward by France, the former colonial power.
The rebel force in pickup trucks started moving across the desert from a base near the eastern border with Sudan on Monday but major fighting only erupted Friday as they neared the capital.
French military sources said there were about 2,000 rebel fighters and that Deby has at least 2,000-3,000 troops.
The rebels were helped by Sudanese helicopters and Antonov military aircraft in an attack Sunday on the eastern town of Adre near the border with Darfur, the local government prefect, General Abadi Sair told AFP.
This was denied by a Sudan's state Minister for Foreign Affairs Sammani al-Wassila who called the Chad fighting an "internal affair".
Allam-Mi told RTI later Sunday that the assault on Adre had also been repelled.
Date created : 2008-02-04