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Conflict feared as Sudan-Chad tensions escalate

The threat of open conflict between Sudan and neighbouring Chad is rising, with each side accusing the other of seeking to destabilise their already tense common border.

Sudan said on Sunday it was ready for any Chadian attack the day after Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno said his forces would pursue rebels into Sudan’s troubled region of Darfur, which neighbours Chad, if necessary.

Tensions rose further on Monday with the Sudanese army accusing Ndjamena forces of bombing close to the Darfur city of Geneina, which lies 30km from the Chadian border.

”Three Antonov aircraft bombed positions south-west of Geneina, killing three civilians and wounding four others,” armed forces spokesperson Othman al-Agbash was quoted as telling the Akhbar al-Yom daily on Monday.

”We consider this an attack on Sudan,” he was quoted as saying, repeating that Sudanese armed forces were ready for any eventuality.

Already strained for years, ties between Chad and Sudan have further worsened since the clashes erupted. Recently the two countries have traded accusations of aggression and supporting each other’s rebel movements.

The al-Rai al-Aam reported heightened tensions along the frontier and said that Chadian artillery was pointed at Geneina.

The Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which the Khartoum government says is backed by Chad, has also said it is stepping up its attacks in the area around Geneina.

JEM commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Asher denied receiving Chadian support but said his forces had surrounded Geneina, a claim denied by Khartoum.

Asher also said his forces had shot and damaged a Sudanese military aircraft on Sunday, which then made a forced landing at Geneina.

Déby on Saturday repeated charges that Khartoum is backing Chadian rebels from the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) and trying to destabilise his country.

He claimed his forces had already driven out the rebels from Chad and said: ”We’re going to destroy them in their nest inside Sudan … We’re going to make them eat dust inside Sudan.”

Rebels and government forces clashed violently in eastern Chad between November 26 and December 4, scuttling October peace accords signed in Libya.

On Tuesday, Sudan’s military claimed eight of its soldiers were killed and 19 wounded in clashes with rebels backed by Chadian troops in Darfur.

And last week, Sudan said Chadian forces had carried out an air and ground assault in Darfur, charges strongly denied by Ndjamena.

Chad claimed last week that Khartoum was preparing a ”new aggression” against its neighbour to prevent the deployment of a European Union peacekeeping force in eastern Chad and a joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur.

Chadian UFDD forces have said they are regrouping along the Sudanese side of the frontier. — Sapa-AFP

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