Chad president declares victory, but up to 160 dead

Chad's President Idriss Deby said Wednesday his government was back in control of the country after beating back the rebel offensive in N'Djamena. At least 160 people were killed and 1,000 injured over the weekend, said the Red Cross.


N'DJAMENA, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Chad's President Idriss Deby
said on Wednesday his government was in total control of the
country after beating back a rebel offensive in fighting which
killed up to 160  civilians at the weekend.

Making his first public appearance since rebels attacked the
capital N'Djamena on Saturday and besieged his presidential
palace, Deby accused the president of neighbouring Sudan, Omar
Hassan al-Bashir, of backing the rebel offensive.

"We have total control of the situation, not only in the
capital, but also the whole country," Deby, wearing military
uniform, told a news conference at his palace in N'Djamena after
meeting French Defence Minister Herve Morin.

Morin flew in to Chad to show French support for its former
colony, where it has warplanes and more than 1,000 troops
stationed. France initially said it was "neutral" as fighting
raged at the weekend, but later threw its weight behind Deby.

The bodies of at least 100 civilians lay in N'Djamena's
three main hospitals and as many as 700 more people were being
treated for bullet wounds and injuries from mortar fire, Guilhem
Molinie, head of mission for MSF-Brussels, told Reuters.

He said the death toll was likely to rise as Red Cross
workers were still recovering bodies.

After obtaining U.N. Security Council support for Deby's
government, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday his
country could intervene if needed against the rebels, whom Chad
says are supported by Sudan. Khartoum denies this.

Deby, who has fought off several rebel bids to end his
18-year rule in the central African oil producer, said he had
not yet asked the French army to step in.

After meeting Morin, the former French-trained helicopter
pilot said he could consider pardoning six French aid workers
jailed by Chad for abducting children, if France requested it.

The members of charity Zoe's Ark were jailed in December for
eight years for trying to fly 103 African children to Europe
without permission. France's close relationship with Chad had
already helped secure their transfer to a French jail and a
pardon would be a further sign of mutual cooperation.


Rebel forces said they were still occupying positions
"around N'Djamena" and vowed to fight any French intervention.

"If we are attacked, then we have the right to legitimately
defend ourselves," rebel spokesman Ali Ordjo Hemchi said, urging
France not to back a "failed regime".

He said rebel forces had routed early on Wednesday a column
of pro-Deby "Toro-boro" Sudanese rebels north east of the
capital, but there was no independent confirmation of this.

Deby's government said it had defeated its Chadian rebel
foes, who had made a lightning advance last week from the
eastern border with Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

A second rebel spokesman, Abderamane Koullamalah, said an
army helicopter was bombarding insurgents 100 km (62 miles)
northeast of N'Djamena. But he added the rebels would return.

"We'll retake the offensive in a few days," he said.

The increased conflict has delayed the deployment of a
3,700-strong European Union peacekeeping force to east Chad to
protect thousands of Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians
who have fled violence spilling over from Sudan's Darfur.

Relief officials said the unrest was blocking aid flights to
more than half a million refugees and civilians in the east.

The British charity Save the Children called on the United
Nations to organise urgent supply airlifts from neighbouring
Cameroon and Central African Republic.

"It has to happen within 48 hours," said Gareth Owen, Save
the Children's Head of Emergencies. "Otherwise the humanitarian
aid effort will start to unravel."

Tens of thousands of N'Djamena residents fled into Cameroon
and Nigeria after the fighting, but hundreds started returning
on Wednesday. A Chadian police officer with a megaphone told the
crowd at the border: "Come back home. N'Djamena is at peace".

French warplanes have been flying reconnaissance missions
over rebel positions and French Foreign Minister Bernard
Kouchner said on Wednesday that a rebel force of between 100 and
200 vehicles was still somewhere east of the capital.


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