Friday, April 14, 2006

N’DJAMENA, Chad — Chad broke off diplomatic relations with Sudan yesterday and threatened to expel 200,000 Sudanese refugees, blaming its neighbor for a rebel attack that a Cabinet official said killed 350 in the capital.

President Idriss Deby said he would expel the refugees who fled Sudan’s troubled Darfur region by June 30 if the United Nations and the African Union did not help stop what he said were Sudan’s attempts to destabilize his government.

Gen. Mahamet Ali Abdullah, a member of the Cabinet, said he did not have a breakdown of the 350 persons killed during Thursday’s assault on N’Djamena, but he said the toll included government troops, rebel forces and civilians.

He said the army captured 271 rebels and 14 pickups they used, some mounted with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Troops paraded the rebel prisoners and laid out the bodies of dead insurgents at the National Assembly building yesterday.

Mr. Deby repeatedly has accused Sudan of hiring mercenaries to overthrow his government. Sudan has denied the accusation and has accused Chad of supporting fighters in its volatile Darfur region, where Arab militias and African rebels have fought for nearly three years.

“The international community has been totally deaf and dumb on the situation between Sudan and Chad,” Mr. Deby said after an emergency Cabinet meeting. They “need to understand the situation and that enough is enough.”

In a press statement read on Sudan’s state-run radio yesterday, Sudan’s foreign ministry said the Sudanese government was a good neighbor and had never interfered with Chad’s internal politics. The ministry called on the warring sides to resolve their problems through peaceful means.

But the Central African Republic said yesterday it was closing its border with Sudan after the Chadian rebels drove in pickup trucks from Sudan through the northern part off that country on their way to attack N’Djamena. The 600-mile journey took them three days.

“We were shocked to hear that rebel groups coming from Sudan have crossed the CAR to go and attack a friendly country,” Foreign Minister Jean Paul Ngoupande said “The closing of our border is our way to express our dissatisfaction with Sudanese aggression.”

The United States criticized Chad’s decision, saying it is counterproductive and will not help an already tragic situation.

“Our view is that more channels of communication are better than fewer,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. “With respect to sealing the border, we have grave concerns about the potential effect on refugees.”

Mr. Deby said he ordered Sudanese diplomats out of the country, but a spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in N’Djamena said they had not received any official communication on the decision.

The U.N. Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council both condemned Thursday’s attack and called on Chad and Sudan to prevent more violence or an escalation of tensions. The United Nations has long warned that the violence in the Sudanese province of Darfur would destabilize the region, especially Chad.

• Staff reporter Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report from Washington.

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