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Sudan Breaks Ties With Chad Over Rebel Attack on Khartoum

Sudan has severed ties with neighboring Chad following an attack Saturday by rebels from Sudan's Darfur region on the capital, Khartoum. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, Sudan's president accused Chad of supporting the rebels.

The attack late Saturday by the Justice and Equality Movement marks the first time the five-year conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region has reached the capital.

There is little indication of the extent of casualties or the number of rebels involved in the attack - though estimates have put the figure at as high as 3,000 Widespread bombing and heavy artillery was heard late Saturday coming from Omdurman - the twin city apposite Khartoum across the Nile river.

The government says it has defeated the rebels, and has shown captured fighters and vehicles on state television.

Freelance journalist Blake Evans-Pritchard spoke to VOA from Khartoum. He says the city appears calm.

"As I understand it from speaking to people in Omdurman the streets are very quiet now there," Evans-Pritchard said. "There is no sign of the fighting that there was last night."

A curfew has been canceled in Khartoum, but extended in Omdurman until further notice.

The army says it is continuing to look for scattered rebels, including the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, Khalil Ibrahim.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir Al-Bashir accused Chad's government of training and supporting the rebels. In a televised address he said, "We have no choice but to sever relations."

The two governments have long accused each other of backing rebel groups.

Chad says Khartoum supported an attack by Chadian rebels in February that reached the capital Ndjamena. The two governments agreed to the latest in string of failed peace agreements in March.

The rebels, who are based hundreds of miles to the west, had been approaching the capital in recent days, but few people expected an attack on the capital itself.

Evans-Pritchard says the attack is likely to force a much greater awareness of the importance of the Darfur conflict for residents of the capital.

"People in the city did not think that something like this could happen, because from Khartoum's perspective Darfur is many many miles away," Evans-Pritchard said. "People do not even think of Darfur in Khartoum and a lot of people do not know much about it. What this attack has done is highlighted how much of Sudan Darfur actually is to people living in Khartoum"

The African Union said it strongly condemned the attack. It said the violence can only further complicate efforts aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis in Darfur and at promoting regional peace, security and stability.

The European Union has 2,200 peacekeepers in Eastern Chad, along the border with Sudan, to help secure humanitarian access.