Chad denies a major Darfur rebel leader entry, stranding him at airport

CAIRO (AP) — Chad denied entry to the leader of Darfur's most powerful rebel group Wednesday, stranding him at the airport and preventing him from rejoining his movement in the war-ravaged region.

Chad's Minister of Interior Ahmat Mahamat Bachir said Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, was coming from Tripoli on a Libyan flight. Security units surrounded the plane and denied him entry into the country.

"He was not welcome in Chad," the minister said.

Ahmed Hussein, the spokesman for the group, said Chadian authorities seized Ibrahim's travel documents and those of his accompanying delegation and told them to return from whence they came.

The flight crew, however, refused to take them back to Libya because of their lack of documents.

"This is a serious precedent," Hussein said, calling the move illegal.

He called on Chad and the joint U.N.-African Union peace mediator to intervene to end the standoff and allow Ibrahim back into Sudan's western Darfur region, the site of a seven-year rebellion that has killed hundreds of thousands. Chad is a common route to Darfur.

Darfur's ethnic African rebels rose up in 2003, accusing Sudan's Arab-dominated central government of neglect and discrimination. U.N. officials estimated 300,000 people died and 2.7 million were displaced.

Many Darfur rebels come from tribes that overlap the countries' border, and some have bases in Chad, which for years had strained relations with Sudan.

In February, the two countries pledged to deny support for each other's rebels and to monitor borders. Many observers praised it as a boost for peace prospects in Darfur.

Ibrahim recently suspended his participation in peace talks with Sudan, complaining of government violations. Sudan retaliated by announcing it was seeking his arrest on charges of conspiracy and murder.

The talks between JEM and the government fizzled after the group accused the government of violating a cease-fire and using the talks just to ensure the region remained quiet during last month's historic Sudanese presidential and parliamentary elections.

Hussein said the decision to stop Ibrahim at the airport was a "conspiracy" to force JEM to return to peace talks, hosted by the Gulf emirate Qatar.

He said Chad can't hand Ibrahim over to Sudan because it would risk "grave consequences."


Associated Press Writer Dany Padire in N'Djamena, Chad contributed to this report.