An African Union delegation flew in to Chad on Friday to probe President Idriss Deby’s accusations that neighbor Sudan is backing rebels bent on ending his nearly 16-year rule.
The insurgents launched their boldest assault yet in the central African oil producer last week, racing across the desert in pick-up trucks from the eastern border with Sudan to raid N’Djamena in clashes the government said killed several hundred.
Deby has accused Sudan of attacking his country and his government says it has abundant proof Khartoum equipped and armed the rebels, some of whom were captured and who residents say had to ask their way round N’Djamena when they arrived.
Khartoum denies the charges.
“We’ve come to collect as much information as possible so the African Union, in cooperation with Chad and its partners, can find the best possible route out of the crisis,” said Pierre Yere, the AU political adviser who is leading the mission.
He said his five-member delegation would meet the government, opposition, civil society and international partners including U.N. bodies and certain ambassadors, but stressed that it was only a fact-finding mission.
“We will send a report to the AU’s Peace and Security Council but the ultimate decisions are not ours,” he told reporters at N’Djamena airport.
African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, one of the continent’s top diplomats, said this week the mission would have to establish the facts before the 53-member continental body could make any condemnation of “the aggressor."
Chad says it has ample proof — ranging from circumstantial to “irrefutable” — that Sudan’s government backed the insurgents who slipped into the capital at dawn last week following a series of attacks further east.
“We’re ready to show [the delegation] the prisoners we took and show them the equipment we seized during the fighting,” Chad’s Foreign Minister Ahmat Allam-Mi told Reuters.
The rebel United Front for Democratic Change (FUC) said skirmishes were still taking place with government forces in the center and south of the country and repeated its determination to try to end Deby’s rule.
FUC, an alliance of anti-Deby rebel groups formed at the end of December and led by a Chadian ex-army captain, Mahamat Nour, accuses the president of dictatorial rule, corruption and human rights abuses. He refuses to negotiate with them.
“There will be fighting as long as Mr. Deby persists in his intransigence,” Albissaty Saleh Allazam, spokesman for the rebel United Front for Democratic Change (FUC), told Reuters.
Many analysts say there is credible evidence of Sudanese backing for FUC, which has vowed to disrupt a May 3 presidential election in which Deby is standing for a third term.
France flys reconnaissance missions
Former colonial power France, which has more than 1,000 soldiers in Chad, has been flying reconnaissance missions across the vast country in what officials say are efforts to get to the bottom of Chad’s accusations of Sudanese involvement.
Foreign diplomats said many of those captured during the fighting appeared not to speak Chadian dialects, while the arms seized and shown to journalists after the raid included Chinese munitions, which analysts said were likely to be from Sudan.
International condemnation of Sudan, particularly over the crisis in its Darfur region, has been far from unanimous.
Russia and China blocked U.N. sanctions on Monday against four Sudanese, including an air force general and a pro-Khartoum militia leader, held responsible for abuses in Darfur. The United States said it would force a public vote on the issue.