Image: Chadian children are seen in the destroyed central market in N'Djamena, Chad
Jerome Delay  /  AP
Chadian children are seen in the destroyed central market in N'Djamena, Chad, on Friday. Residents took stock of the damage from fierce fighting that brought rebels to the doorstep of Chad's presidential palace.
updated 2/8/2008 5:18:32 PM ET 2008-02-08T22:18:32

Turbaned troops patrolled the streets of Chad's capital in pickups Friday while residents took stock of the damage from days of fierce fighting that brought rebels to the doorstep of the presidential palace.

Hundreds of civilians were killed and about 1,000 were wounded in the weekend violence in the oil-rich Central African nation, Chad Red Cross officials said. Thousands fled into neighboring Cameroon, though many were headed back Friday.

Half the stores remained shut in the capital N'Djamena on Friday and many had doors forced open, exposing their bare shelves. Buildings were scorched by rocket fire and pockmarked with bullet holes. Looted goods such as mattresses and car parts were strewn about.

Some looters began giving up stolen goods, fearing house-to-house searches, residents said. Some property was left outside the offices of local administrators or dumped on roadsides. A reporter saw a sofa and a pile of carpets left on the median of one road.

"This is very difficult," said Adam Mohammed, 38, who said his electrical appliance shop was destroyed when government troops opened fire on rebels hiding in the capital's main market. "If the war continues it will be terrible. We want change, but not this way." A guard said government helicopter gunships destroyed the market over the weekend.

Mohammed was salvaging some replacement plugs and fuses amid the wreckage of twisted corrugated iron, damaged goods and ashes among remains of the market.

"This can't help the country develop," said Abatimi Kosse, a 35-year-old electrician. "How can we move forward like this?"

Troubles shroud Chad  
President Idriss Deby, himself a coup leader, is accused of nepotism and embezzling millions of dollars in oil revenue during his 17 years in office.

But the weekend coup attempt, with soldiers expelling the rebels from the capital on Sunday, appears to be a struggle within the elite that long has corruptly controlled Chad. The rebel leaders include former defense minister Mahamat Nouri and Timan Erdimi, a nephew of Deby who was his chief of staff.

Chad has repeatedly said neighboring Sudan is backing the rebels to try to prevent European peacekeepers from deploying. The troops would guard nearly a half million refugees and Chadians displaced by violence in neighboring Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region. Sudan has denied involvement, but has long resisted such a force.

It was unclear where the rebels were Friday. Chad's president said Wednesday his men were pursuing them across the desert and wanted to stop them before the reached the border with Sudan. The rebels have not answered their satellite telephones since Tuesday.

Troops deployed, curfews issued
Chad's government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew across the country Thursday, though Deby had claimed his forces controlled the entire country. Troops patrolled the streets of the capital Friday in pickup trucks, some with mounted machine guns, one with an anti-aircraft cannon. Troops stopped cars, checking people's identification cards.

Prime Minister Nouradin Koumakoye said the government was hunting down the many "plotters and their accomplices" hiding in N'Djamena. Amnesty International said it feared a "major witch hunt" and charged that summary killings already are taking place.

New York-based Human Rights Watch had expressed concern about four arrested opposition politicians who were not involved in the fighting. The group says Deby opponents have been tortured, killed and made to disappear in the past.

The prime minister said he knew nothing about the jailed politicians.

Fleeing to safety in Cameroon
The U.N. estimates at least 30,000 Chadians fled across the Chari River to the Cameroonian town of Kousseri after rebels and government forces clashed over the weekend.

N'Djamena has been calm since Wednesday, and Chadians were streaming back Friday, complaining food and other necessities were scarce in the camps.

The refugee exodus added to an already daunting challenge for humanitarian workers in the region. While the recent fighting pushed Chadians from their homes in southwestern Chad, earlier fighting between the government and rebels had displaced thousands in the east. Eastern Chad also is home to thousands of Sudanese who have fled fighting in neighboring Sudan's Darfur region.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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