Thousands of civilians fled Chad's capital N'Djamena yesterday after rebel forces pulled back from a two-day assault, but the rebels said they would attack again to try to topple President Idriss Deby.
Deby's government, reeling from the latest strike on the city in under two years, said it had beaten off more than 2,000 insurgents who stormed into the riverside capital of the central African state on Saturday, riding aboard armed pickup trucks.
But the rebels, who call Deby's 18-year rule corrupt and dictatorial, warned N'Djamena's population to flee their homes. They said their withdrawal from the city late on Sunday was "tactical" and that they were regrouping for another attack.
"We're at the gates of the city," rebel spokesman Abderamane Koullamalah told Radio France International (RFI).
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao said yesterday that all the Chinese people remaining in N'djamena are safe, and Chinese Ambassador to Chad Wang Yingwu is leading the remaining staff of the Chinese Embassy to organize and assist an early evacuation of the remaining Chinese citizens.
The Chinese embassies in Cameron and other neighboring countries are also engaged actively in relocating the evacuated Chinese citizens under the direction of the Foreign Ministry, Liu said.
Yesterday, residents said N'Djamena was relatively calm, but a government helicopter flew overhead and sporadic detonations could still be heard. Some people ventured cautiously out.
Government military vehicles moved around the city. Bodies of dead civilians were visible in some streets, killed in two days of chaotic fighting and widespread looting which badly damaged the state radio building and the main market.
Residents said they feared another rebel assault. Rebel fighters had gone from house to house in some areas, telling occupants to leave because they planned to attack again.
A Reuters correspondent across the Logone-Chari river from the city reported a flood of refugees streaming over the Ngueli bridge into Cameroon.
"I saw one girl wounded from a stray bullet in the back. There were children crying, almost all of them were frightened," Television correaspondent Emmanuel Braun said.
Local Cameroon authorities estimated some 15,000 people had fled across the river to the small border town of Kousseri.
Chad's Foreign Minister Ahmat Allam-mi said N'Djamena was under the control of Deby's government forces. "The battle of N'Djamena is over," he said, speaking to RFI from Addis Ababa where he had attended an African Union summit.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres estimated that several hundred people had been injured.
Chad says the rebels, who include some of Deby's former allies, are backed by Sudan. Khartoum denies this and in turn accuses the Chadians of supporting rebels in its Darfur region.
The rebel attack forced France to use its troops stationed in its former colony to evacuate at least 700 French and other foreign nationals from the landlocked oil-producing state.
It also forced the EU to delay the deployment of a EU peacekeeping force (EUFOR) to eastern Chad to protect thousands of refugees who have fled violence spilling over from the long-running war in Sudan's Darfur region.
"We stopped it in the last few days in order to see how the situation evolves on the ground," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters in Brussels. "The situation is still not clear ... but we continue to maintain the operation alive."
An attack by anti-Deby forces on Sunday on the far eastern border town of Adre opened a new front in the fighting. Chad's army said it repulsed the assault which it said was made by a mixed force of Sudanese army troops and rebels.
(China Daily via Agencies February 5, 2008)