N'DJAMENA, Chad – Chad threatened Saturday to cut off its flow of oil unless the World Bank releases $125 million frozen in a dispute over how the central African country should spend its oil revenues.
The announcement followed a late-night meeting between President Idriss Deby and his Cabinet ministers to discuss their response to a rebel attack on the capital. The rebels were repulsed but are believed to be regrouping nearby, and the threat of a violent overthrow of Deby's government has not diminished.
The government presumably wants the frozen funds to finance its fight against the rebels.
Oil Minister Mahmat Hassan Nasser told the Associated Press that the World Bank in January froze an escrow account with $125 million in oil royalties in London, where the royalties are deposited on behalf of the government. Without payment, the government would have to shut down the pipeline that flows through Cameroon to an Atlantic Ocean oil terminal, he said.
"Chad has the right to do this," the oil minister told the AP. "The government has the right to act as its sees fit if obligations are not met."
Nasser said the World Bank had until midday Tuesday to release the funds or the pipeline would be shut down. He said such action would not hurt his government because the royalties already had been cut, but it would hurt other businesses and Cameroon, which have been collecting their revenues.
He spoke as thousands of people gathered in central N'djamena for a rally in support of Deby's government.
Chad had a deal with the World Bank for the financing of a pipeline on condition that most of the revenues would be used to alleviate poverty. Deby broke that deal earlier this year so he could use the money to finance his military, prompting the World Bank action.
Earlier, Prime Minister Pascal Yaodimnadji was defiant while explaining the government's decision about the pipeline to the diplomatic corps.
"The people of Chad have lived in the past without oil and will live tomorrow without oil," he said, adding that the elected government had the right to spend its money as it saw fit.
Chad exports about 160,000 barrels per day, a small amount by world standards.
An Exxon Mobil-led consortium exported 133 million barrels of oil from Chad between October 2003 and December 2005, according to the World Bank. Chad earned $307 million from those exports, the bank said.
Earlier, Deby said he was severing relations with neighboring Sudan, and he threatened to expel 200,000 Sudanese refugees if the international community did not do more to stop what he claimed were Sudanese efforts to destabilize his government.
Deby repeatedly has accused Sudan of hiring mercenaries to overthrow his government. Sudan has denied the accusation, and in turn has accused Chad of supporting fighters in its volatile Darfur region, where Arab militias and African rebels have fought for nearly three years.
The Central African Republic said Friday it was closing its border with Sudan after the rebels passed through the northern part of the country while their way from Sudan to attack N'djamena.
The rebels released a statement on their Web site, again condemning Deby's refusal to negotiate with them. A key issue has been Deby's decision to change the constitution so he can run for a third term in elections set for May 3.
"The regime of Idriss Deby is the basis of the crisis in this part of the African continent," the rebel statement said.
Chad, an arid, landlocked country about three times the size of France, has been convulsed by violence for most of its history, including more than 30 years of civil war since gaining independence from France in 1960. There also have been various small-scale insurgencies since 1998.
Some 180,000 people have died in Darfur in western Sudan over the past three years, some at the hands of Arab militias, many from disease and hunger.
While observers believe Sudan has provided at least some support to the Chadian rebels, the insurgents are led by former senior military officers, who until recently served under Deby. There has been enormous dissent within Deby's clan over his decision to run for a third term and over how royalties from recently exploited oil reserves have disappeared.
Army officers first attempted to oust Deby on March 14 by trying to seize power while he was out of the country.