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Sudan closes border with Chad and halts trade

Chad closed its border with Sudan on Monday and put a halt to bilateral trade, a minister said, a day after Sudan severed diplomatic ties with Chad.
Image: Sudan
Armed Sudanese secret service policemen man a checkpoint on Monday in Khartoum's twin city Omdurman following Sunday's fierce fighting between Darfurian rebels and Sudanese government forces. Sudan closed its border with Chad on Monday, after accusing Chad of supporting the rebels.AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Chad closed its border with Sudan on Monday and put a halt to bilateral trade, a minister said, a day after Sudan severed diplomatic ties with Chad.

Communications Minister Mahamat Hissene said that the Cabinet decided during a meeting chaired by President Idriss Deby to cut all economic ties with Sudan, including freezing the assets of a Sudanese bank in Chad and stopping all trade between the two countries.

The broadcast and sale of Sudanese music was also banned, Hissene said, reading a statement on state-owned television and radio.

The decision came a day after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir severed diplomatic ties with Chad following a Saturday rebel attack near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum that al-Bashir says Chad supported.

The measures Chad took Monday go beyond any the central African nation has effected against Sudan since it severed diplomatic ties in April 2006 following a failed rebel attack on the Chadian capital, N'Djamena. Libyan and diplomatic efforts of other countries saw the two restore relations in August that year.

"After Sudan unilaterally broke ties, the Chadian government has a right to take all measures necessary to ensure the security of its territory and its citizens, protect its economic and cultural interests to avoid any surprise," said Hissene.

On Saturday, the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group launched an unprecedented attack near Khartoum, hundreds of miles from their bases in the country's far west.

The attack was the closest Darfur rebels have ever come to the seat of Sudan's government, which they accuse of marginalizing ethnic African minorities in Darfur and worsening the region's humanitarian crisis.

The government issued several statements claiming to have crushed the rebels and paraded images of captured and bloodied fighters on television. State media said 50 rebel trucks were seized in Omdurman and a neighboring village.

"I would like to assure people that everything is now under control, the rebel forces have been totally destroyed," said Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in a televised address Sunday, wearing military fatigues.

‘No choice’
"These forces come from Chad who trained them ... we hold the Chadian regime fully responsible for what happened," he said. "We have no choice but to sever relations."

Al-Bashir said he reserved the right to retaliate against the "outlaw regime," raising the specter of a border war between the two countries who have long traded accusations over support for each others' rebels.

The Interior Ministry called on people in Khartoum and Omdurman to remain inside while it searched for "infiltrators" — rebels who had doffed their uniforms in the fighting to hide among the people.

Abdul-Majeed told the city's government-run radio that some rebels are still operating in Omdurman.

Extra checkpoints were still in place Sunday throughout Khartoum, and an Associated Press reporter saw at least three rebels being arrested in a northern section of the city.

State television for the first time ever broadcast the picture of Khalil Ibrahim, leader of Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement, which carried out the assault, asking citizens to call a special hotline if they saw him because he was hiding somewhere in Omdurman. The government later announced a reward for information leading to his capture.

The JEM has become one of the most effective rebel movements in Darfur, where ethnic Africans took up arms against the government in 2003 to protest discrimination. In the last year it has expanded its operations into the neighboring province of Kordofan, even attacking oil installations.

Saturday night's assault, however, was the first time they had made it anywhere near the capital.

While the rebels declared the assault a success, the government was quick to describe it as a disaster for the rebels, displaying prisoners and captured vehicles on television.

"This attempt was a foolish act and those who carried it out did not take into account the negative consequences — the attempt was based on lies and disinformation," said military spokesman Brig. Gen. Osman al-Agbash.

With just a few thousand members, JEM is outnumbered and far less equipped than Sudan's military, which believed to be more than 100,000-strong. Yet the group presents the most prominent military challenge to the Sudanese government in Darfur.

The assault puts greater pressure on the Sudanese government to deal with the situation in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been chased from their homes since 2003. Sudan denies backing the janjaweed militia of Arab nomads accused of the worst atrocities in the conflict.

Attempts to revive peace talks between Sudan and rebel groups have failed to stem the violence. Rebel groups accuse the Khartoum regime of stonewalling the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force that would try to establish security before peace talks.

‘A Chadian attack’
The instability on Sudan's western border has spilled over into Chad, with armed groups and refugees crossing the remote border on a regular basis and destabilizing both countries and straining relations.

"These forces are Chadian forces originally, they moved from there led by Khalil Ibrahim who is an agent of the Chadian regime. It is a Chadian attack," al-Bashir said Sunday morning.

For its part, Chad has accused Sudanese authorities of arming rebels who launched a failed assault February on the Chadian capital, N'Djamena. The rebels reached the gate of the presidential palace, but fled toward Sudan after Chad's army repelled them in fighting that left hundreds dead.

Though the two countries signed a peace agreement in March promising to prevent armed groups from operating along each other's shared borders, the accusations have continued unabated.