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Chadian Authorities Impose Curfew on Capital, Other Regions


Chad's government has ordered a curfew for the capital and six provinces in the interior as its army tries to chase down rebels who nearly toppled the president. Opposition leaders have been jailed in N'Djamena, while tens of thousands of civilians have fled to Cameroon. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West, Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

The curfew will cover N'Djamena as well as eastern and northern provinces.

The decision came as military officials said soldiers were trying to hunt down rebels before they returned to their bases in Sudan.

The army says it controls all of Chad, but rebels say they still control northern, central and eastern parts. Some admit they are running out of fuel, ammunition and food, but say they could have taken power if France had not intervened militarily.

Some reports say a large convoy of rebels was believed to be located about 400 kilometers northeast of the capital.

The European Union had just begun deploying a peacekeeping force along Chad's border with Sudan when the rebel incursion started last week. An EU spokesman said those efforts are now expected to resume next week.

European officials say the aim of the force is to provide security for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, Chad and the Central African Republic. 3,700 peacekeepers are due to deploy in both Chad and the CAR.

Chadian President Idriss Deby says help is not coming soon enough.

Speaking on French private radio, he said it would have been nice if the European force had already been present. He says Chad's army has been trying to secure the refugee camps, and the effort has weakened its ability to defend the rest of the country against rebels.

During the interview, Mr. Deby called the rebels bandits, thieves, Islamic extremists and Sudanese-backed mercenaries who would probably attack again.

Chad's president also said that he is ready to pardon French aid workers, sentenced to eight years in jail in Chad, and then in France, over an attempted abduction of children, most from Chad. The aid workers say they believed the children were orphans from Darfur.

Mr. Deby's comments prompted lawyers for the jailed aid workers to make official pleas for their pardon.

He also said opposition leaders arrested during the fighting in the capital would have to face the law if they were trying to destabilize Chad as well.

Human rights groups have asked for their immediate release. Reed Brody from New York-based Human Rights Watch says it is unfortunate politics in Chad have become so confrontational.

"War is not good. It is not good that it should be power factions fighting against each other," Brody said. "What is needed in Chad in addition to an immediate ceasefire and protection of civilians, ultimately is true democracy and ultimately some kind of sitting down which all elements of Chadian society from the north and from the south come together and work towards the benefit of a country that is one of the poorest on earth, despite the fact that they have found a significant amount of oil, that is not being used yet to help the people of the country."

On Thursday, the rebels released a statement saying France has a heavy responsibility in backing Mr. Deby, calling his government a dictatorial, repressive, corrupt and illegal regime. Mr. Deby came to power in a coup in 1990 and changed the constitution to allow unlimited mandates. His last election in 2006 was marred by accusations of widespread fraud.

France's government, which has a permanent military base in Chad, gave logistical, medical and surveillance support to Chad's president during the fighting, but denied rebel accusations that it engaged in combat operations.

The fighting left at least 160 people dead, many of them soldiers or rebels, and one-thousand injured, most of them civilians, according to aid workers.

Aid workers also say tens of thousands of residents who fled to Cameroon are now at the risk of a cholera epidemic. Mr. Deby called on the refugees to return home. Rebels had previously told civilians to flee saying they were preparing another attack.

Sudan denies it backs the Chadian rebels, and accuses Chad of backing rebels operating against Sudanese government forces in Darfur. A large African Union/United Nations force to be deployed in Darfur has faced delays amid resistance from Sudan's government.

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