N'DJAMENA, Chad – Chad's president has reversed earlier threats by officials to forcibly return Sudanese refugees to their country's volatile Darfur region after allegations that Chadian rebels have recruited fighters from the camps, the U.N. refugee chief said Monday.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres urged the international community to make every effort to bring peace to Darfur, saying security there is essential for the stability of the entire region, including Chad.
Peace in Darfur would also "preserve the security of refugees and internally displaced people in Darfur and Chad, and potentially in other countries of the region," Guterres said after talking with President Idriss Deby by telephone from Geneva on Sunday night.
Despite a public rally to celebrate the government's victory over rebels in a pre-dawn raid on the capital Thursday, Deby has not convinced most Chadians the rebels are defeated. Rumors circulated through the capital Monday that a rebel force was just 15 miles outside of the capital, N'Djamena.
Deby's government has tried its best to attract international attention to solve Chad's political, economic and security problems.
On Friday, Deby said Chad was severing relations with neighboring Sudan, and threatened to expel 200,000 Sudanese refugees if the international community did not do more to stop what he claimed were Sudanese backed-rebels from destabilizing his government before the May 3 presidential election.
Oil Minister Mahmat Hassan Nasser said in an interview Saturday that the country's oil pipeline would be shut down unless the international community ensured Chad received by midday Tuesday oil royalties frozen by the World Bank. Chad exports only 160,000 barrels per day.
In January, the World Bank froze a London escrow account containing $125 million in oil royalties, Nasser said. It also cut $124 million in financial assistance after Chad changed an oil revenue law passed in 1999 as a condition for the World Bank's support for the pipeline.
Henriette Blaah, a 46-year-old secretary in N'Djamena, said she was very afraid of what the future may hold.
"We don't know if the rebels will come back today or tomorrow," she said. "I've been listening to the radio, and the rebels said they would come back, and I pray that they do not. We do not want this."
But most people think the battle for Chad, which Deby has ruled for almost 16 years, is far from over.
Rebel commander Col. Regis Bechir told Radio France International Saturday that Deby's regime was a menace that must be removed from power.
"Dialogue is the only way to save the people of Chad," he said. "A national reconciliation, with a democratic basis, would be best. And we are determined to continue the armed struggle against the phony elections."
Deby repeatedly has accused Sudan of hiring mercenaries to overthrow his government. Sudan has denied this and has long accused Chad of supporting fighters in its volatile Darfur region, where Arab militias and African rebels have fought for nearly three years. Some 180,000 people have died in Darfur.
The Sudanese government has denied any involvement with the Chadian rebels and Deby has taken a lead role in African Union efforts to negotiate a peace deal for Darfur.
Chad, an arid, landlocked country about three times the size of France, has been wracked by violence for most of its history, including more than 30 years of civil war since gaining independence from France in 1960 and various small-scale insurgencies since 1998.