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Sudan cuts Chad ties after Darfur rebel attack PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 12 May 2008

AFP, KHARTOUM - Sudan on Sunday cut diplomatic ties with Chad, accusing its neighbour of backing a first-ever Darfur rebel attack on Khartoum as the government partially lifted a curfew to clamp down on rebels.

The government said it had repulsed the assault by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), allegedly backed by Ndjamena, which saw the insurgents reach the outskirts of Khartoum with the declared intent of toppling the regime.

"We are forced to sever diplomatic relations with this regime" in Chad, Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir said on state television following the attack on the capital's twin city of Omdurman just across the river Nile from Khartoum.

"We place the entire responsibility for this attack on Chad," he said after returning from Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and swapping traditional white robes for his field marshall's military uniform.

Police spokesman Major General Mohamed Abduil Majeed said a curfew had been lifted in Khartoum but remained in force in Omdurman until further notice.

The Egyptian news agency MENA said Khartoum international airport was closed for security reasons.

Remnant rebel forces were still in a number of residential areas in Omdurman, and the corpses of dead rebels, arms and explosives were being rounded up, the police spokesman told Sudan's official SUNA news agency.

The rebels "are now either dead or prisoners of war," army spokesman Brigadier General Osman al-Aghbash told public radio.

The army said that "most of those who fell into our hands were Chadian," and that they numbered around 100. "There are certainly dead and wounded, but we can't say how many," a spokesman said.

JEM's deputy chief of staff Suleiman Sandal said that his forces had taken Omdurman but were having trouble with the urban fighting environment having come from the desert of Darfur, and had suffered deaths and injuries.

"We attacked Omdurman yesterday and we took over all Omdurman and besieged the Sudan government troops," Sandal, who said he was still in Omdurman, told AFP by telephone.

"Our troops came from Darfur," he said. "This is the first time for them to fight in towns and now we are gathering our troops and thinking about what we're doing."

He said his forces were prevented from crossing a key bridge into Khartoum overnight after taking three days to drive from Darfur in a convoy of 400 vehicles in order to depose the regime.

"We've been fighting in Darfur for five years and no one is listening to us," Sandal said. "We are determined to bring war to Khartoum."

Sudan and Chad accuse each other of backing rebels seeking to topple their respective regimes, and Khartoum was quick to blame Ndjamena for Saturday's violence.

Foreign ministry official Ali Yousif said that "we have evidence there was communication between (the rebels and) the government of Chad and the embassy of Chad in Khartoum."

He said Chad's ambassador was not in Khartoum but that "five or six" other Chadian officials were "probably preparing to leave," and promised to allow the diplomats safe passage.

An Omdurman resident told AFP he could see smashed cars in the streets and plumes of smoke rising after a night of fighting but that electricity and water had come back online.

"We had a terrible night because of the military camp here," said the father of one young girl, referring to a nearby base and asking not to be named.

"Up until six o'clock (0300 GMT) this morning there was very heavy bombardment. I can see smoke out of the window and smashed cars from the roof of the building. There is a lot of heavy smoke inside the military camp."

He said military and police vehicles were patrolling the streets, and ambulance sirens were wailing.

"We're just being told to stay in and keep a low profile," a US diplomat said, asking not to be named.

In February, rebels allegedly backed by Khartoum advanced as far as the gates of the presidential palace in Ndjamena before being repulsed.

JEM has carried out a number of high-profile attacks on Sudanese targets, including raids on Chinese-run oil fields because of what it says is Beijing's refusal to rein in Khartoum's alleged human rights abuses.

State television on Saturday showed images of what it said were captured rebels cowering in the back of an armoured personnel carrier, along with footage of captured rebel all-terrain vehicles, field artillery and shells.

The White House said it was "very concerned" about the violence and urged both the Darfur rebels and government forces to cease hostilities.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the "use of armed force and military means by JEM" and called for "an immediate cessation of fighting."

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