Chad demands removal of Sudanese refugees, or it will move them

Eds: UPDATES with comment from analyst, EU force commander, airport reopening, background; CLARIFIES that Deby had wanted international refugees moved further into Sudan in 2006.

By TOM MALITI

Associated Press Writer

N'DJAMENA, Chad (AP) -- Chad's prime minister demanded Monday that the international community remove refugees who have fled to Chad from Sudan's Darfur region, warning that Chadian authorities would otherwise do it themselves.

Prime Minister Nouradin Koumakoye charged that Sudan's government has fomented violence in Chad -- including backing a failed coup attempt last week -- because of the presence of refugees from Sudan's Darfur.

Sudan has denied that it backs Chadian rebels, who often clash with government forces in the east and advanced into the capital, in the southwest, before being expelled last week.

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

"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 the Darfuris gathered along its eastern border before. After rebel attacks in April 2006, President Idriss Deby demanded that the international community remove them from camps along the border and move them further inside Chad. He 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 off a few days later under intense international pressure.

Over the weekend, about 12,000 Darfuris fled to Chad following air strikes by the Sudanese military, adding to the 280,000 Sudanese already seeking refuge in eastern Chad.

The U.N. has said there are another 140,000 Chadians in the region who have been displaced by a spillover of the violence.

Chad has accused Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir of backing rebels in last week's coup attempt in a bid to prevent deployment of a European peacekeeping force in the border region.

Koumakoye's demand appeared to be a ploy to push the international community into helping end Chad's years-long rebellion -- including swiftly deploying the EU force in hopes they would seal Chad's border with Sudan, said Roland Marchal, an expert on Chad and Sudan at the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research.

"The situation is extremely shaky and Mr. Deby knows in this type of situation it will be extremely difficult for him to prevail, therefore he needs some kind of international support, and the way to get it is to push the refugee issue," he said.

The 3,700-strong European Union force, intended to protect refugees and humanitarian workers along Sudan's borders with Chad and the Central African Republic, had been scheduled to deploy in December but has been delayed for logistical reasons. The recent fighting in Chad's capital further delayed the force.

The EU force's commander in Chad, Brig. Gen. Jean-Philippe Ganascia, told The Associated Press late Sunday that he hoped the mission and its equipment would be deployed within three months.

He also stressed that the peacekeepers would not intervene in internal Chadian conflicts, such as last week's coup attempt.

"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," Ganascia said.

Deby last week called for the swift deployment of the EU force, telling French radio Europe-1 that had the Europeans deployed earlier, it would have "lightened the load" by freeing up his own troops.

Such comments raise concern since the European Union has stressed the neutrality of the force it would deploy. Ganascia declined to comment on Deby's statement.

Chadian rebels, who accuse Deby of corruption and embezzling millions in oil revenue, attacked the capital on Feb. 2-, advancing in trucks mounted with guns in a matter of days from their eastern bases near Sudan's border.

They were repelled after bloody battles, but French military officials reported fighting between rebels and government forces in central Chad on Friday, and confirmed Sunday that the rebels had not fled to Sudan as the government maintained they would.

Nonetheless, the capital's airport was reopening, 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.