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African Union Issues Mild Rebuke to Sudanese-backed Chadian Rebels

The African Peace and Security Council has issued a mild rebuke to Sudanese-backed Chadian rebels who have been battling government troops in eastern Chad since two days after Chad and Sudan signed a peace deal. Chad's ambassador ridiculed the rebuke, and accused Sudan of duplicity.

Africa's paramount peace and security body used its mildest form of censure, a press statement, to criticize the cross-border raids against Chad by Sudanese-backed rebels. The press statement carries less weight than the usual communiqué.

Chad called for the emergency council meeting after the rebels launched an offensive Monday in an area the United Nations says is home to more than 20,000 refugees and 60,000 other displaced people. The fighting was said to be continuing Friday, with both sides claiming the upper hand.

Chad's AU Ambassador Sherif Mohammed Zen, speaking in French, described the rebel attacks as a clear indication Sudan has no intention of honoring a peace agreement with Chad signed last Sunday in the Qatari capital, Doha.

He says "On May 3rd the Doha agreement was signed, and on the 4th of May, heavy armored columns with hundreds of vehicles attacked Chad." He called it clear evidence of the Khartoum regime's duplicity

Ambassador Zen was clearly dissatisfied with the press statement, noting that it does not directly criticize the Khartoum government. He called it evidence of the continental body's refusal to stand up to Sudan, which is an influential member of the group.

He says "Chad expresses disappointment and incomprehension at the African Union's lack of courage to forcefully condemn attacks on our country." He noted that the UN Security Council regularly condemns what he called 'destabilizing offensives coming from Sudan'.

Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra defended the statement, suggesting it was an attempt by the continental body to be even-handed. He says it mixes strong words with a spirit of what he called 'constructive engagement'.

"There is a very strong condemnation of the attacks, which are taking place since the fourth of May in the eastern region of Chad. Council noted with regret that this escalation has occurred in the aftermath of the agreement in Doha concluded on the third of May," said Lamamra. "The Council has reiterated its rejection and condemnation of unconstitutional changes of government as well as destabilization attempts. Council demanded that the States in the region without delay take necessary steps to prevent their territories from being used by armed groups involved in criminal and destabilization activities."

Lamamra said Sudan had not sent a representative to the meeting, saying their schedule was 'too busy'.

The United States and the European Union earlier condemned the attacks. State Department spokesman Robert Wood also called on Sudan's government to disarm and demobilize any Chadian rebels on its territory, and to urge them to return to Chad."

The U.N. Security Council is due to take up the matter later Friday.