Chad demands removal of Darfur refugees, blaming them for tensions with neighboring Sudan

Eds: AMs.

AP Photo XJD102, XJD103, XJD111, XJD109

By TOM MALITI

Associated Press Writer

N'DJAMENA, Chad (AP) -- Chad's prime minister on Monday blamed the influx of some 300,000 refugees from the neighboring Darfur region for his country's worsening tensions with Sudan and he demanded the international community move them out.

Prime Minister Nouradin Koumakoye warned that if the refugees are not transferred elsewhere, Chad's government would expel them on its own.

Koumakoye repeated charges that Sudan is fomenting violence here because Darfur refugees are sheltering in eastern Chad. Chadian rebels often clash with government forces in the east and attacked the capital earlier this month before being driven off, but Sudan denies any involvement.

"We are being attacked by Sudan because of these refugees," Koumakoye told reporters in N'Djamena, the capital.

"We demand that the international community transfer the population (of Sudanese refugees) from Chad to Sudan to free us," he said. "We want the international community to look for another country so that the Sudanese can leave. If they cannot do it, we are going to do it."

Chad has threatened previously to expel the Darfur refugees, who have fled five years of fighting between the region's ethnic African rebel groups and Sudan's Arab-dominated government.

After attacks by Chadian rebels in April 2006, President Idriss Deby said he would force them back into Sudan if the international community did not take action to prevent Sudan from destabilizing his country. Deby backed down a few days later under intense international pressure.

Over the weekend, about 12,000 more Darfur people fled across the border into eastern Chad after air strikes by the Sudanese military on several towns.

An estimated 280,000 Sudanese already were living in camps in eastern Chad, and the United Nations says some 140,000 Chadians in that area also have been displaced by violence linked to the Darfur conflict.

Chad previously accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of backing the rebel attack on N'Djamena in a bid to prevent deployment of a European Union peacekeeping force in the border region.

The 3,700-strong force is intended to protect refugees and humanitarian workers along Sudan's borders with Chad and the Central African Republic, but a planned December deployment was delayed by supply problems. The recent fighting in Chad's capital further delayed the force.

In an interview late Sunday with The Associated Press, the commander in Chad of the EU force, Brig. Gen. Jean-Philippe Ganascia, said he hoped its initial units would arrive by the end of February and the entire force within three months.

Ganascia also said that had the EU peacekeepers been in place, they would not have intervened in Chad's internal conflict except to defend civilians.

"We wouldn't be facing or preventing the rebels' column from coming to N'Djamena because that is not directly our concern from a military point of view," he said.

With the conflict still simmering in Chad, the issue of neutrality is likely to return.

Chadian rebels, who accuse Deby of corruption and embezzling millions in oil revenue, attacked the capital Feb. 2-3, advancing from their strongholds in the east in trucks mounted with machine guns.

The rebels were repelled after bloody battles, but French military officers reported fighting between rebels and government troops in central Chad as recently as Friday.

Nonetheless, the capital's airport was being reopened, a sign the government believes normalcy is returning. Security officials at the airport said the first commercial passenger flight was expected Tuesday, an Air France plane.