Sarkozy warns Chadian rebels

French President Nicolas Sarkozy showed his support for Chadian President Idriss Deby on Tuesday by warning the rebels that France would respond to any unlawful attack against its former colony. FRANCE 24's S. Claudet and V. Herz report.


N'DJAMEMA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - France threw its weight behind
Chad's President Idriss Deby on Tuesday, saying it could
intervene against armed rebels whose weekend attack on the
capital threatened to trigger a fresh humanitarian crisis.

After obtaining U.N. Security Council backing for Deby's
government, French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the rebels
France would "do its duty" and had the means to respond to any
unlawful attack against its former colony.

France has more than 1,000 troops, as well as aircraft,
stationed in Chad which have given logistical and intelligence
support to Deby's army in its fight against the rebels.

Chad has accused Sudan of supporting an offensive by the
rebels, who stormed into the capital of the oil-producing
central African country at the weekend before withdrawing after
two days of fighting. Khartoum denies backing the rebels.

The city was calm on Tuesday. Ambulances collected the dead,
although witnesses said some bodies still lay in central
avenues. Some streets bore the scars of bullets and shells.

Fearing fresh attacks, more than 50,000 people fled south
from N'Djamena into northern Cameroon across the bridge over the
Longone-Chari river. Thousands more were displaced in and around
N'Djamena and food and clean water were running short.

"I'm deeply concerned that we're seeing another serious
humanitarian crisis developing," said Louis Michel, European
Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid.

He announced in Brussels the European Commission had set
aside 2 million euros ($2.96 million) in humanitarian funding to
help meet the needs of refugees, displaced people and other
vulnerable groups hit by violence in the west and east of Chad.


The United States also appealed for an end to the conflict
in Chad, where a U.S.-led consortium has been extracting oil
since 2003.

"What we have called for is the rebels to withdraw ... (and
for) the Sudanese government, if they are providing support for 
the rebels, to withdraw that support," U.S. State Department
spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

Rebel leaders, responding to African Union mediation
efforts, offered to accept a ceasefire. But at least one rebel
spokesman said this was conditional on Deby ending his 18-year
rule over the country, which critics say is corrupt and

Chadian Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye
dismissed talk of a truce. "A ceasefire, why? We'd agree a
ceasefire with who?" he told France 24 television.

Amnesty International demanded that Deby's government reveal
the whereabouts of four leading opposition figures it said were
arrested at their homes by security forces on Sunday. It said
they were at risk of being "tortured or forcibly disappeared".

Rebel leaders accused France's military of fighting in
support of Deby. The French, who have used their troops and
planes to evacuate hundreds of foreign nationals from the
capital N'Djamena, quickly denied this.

Deby's government says it routed the rebels in the chaotic
fighting in which hundreds were injured. The rebels have said
they withdrew to regroup.

France obtained a non-binding statement from the U.N.
Security Council on Monday, which urged countries to support
Deby's government against the rebels.

Sarkozy said this meant his country could intervene in Chad
in support of Deby. "If France has to do its duty, it will," he
said during a visit to western France.

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