Chad declares emergency in east over ethnic clashes

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N'DJAMENA, Oct 16 (Reuters) Chad's government today declared a state of emergency along its eastern border with Sudan's Darfur and in its remote desert north to tackle a fresh flare-up of ethnic violence that killed at least 20 people.

The emergency period, which the government said would last 12 days, gave local governors powers to restrict movement of people and vehicles, meetings and media coverage in the eastern Ouaddai and Wadi Fira regions and in the northern sector of Chad known as the BET.

The measures, which also gave authorities 24-hour search and arrest powers, came a day after European Union foreign ministers gave final approval for the deployment in eastern Chad in coming weeks of a peacekeeping force of up to 3,000 European troops.

''In addition to the situation of war on the frontier with Sudan which has still not found a definitive solution, we are seeing more and more murderous inter-community conflicts that bring bloodshed to certain regions of the country,'' Communication Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said.

''The administrative and military authorities of the relevant regions must tackle this intolerable situation with all appropriate means,'' he added in an official statement.

President Idriss Deby's government announced the move after at least 20 people were killed in recent ethnic clashes in the Wadi Fira region of eastern Chad following the desertion of a group of former rebels loyal to the defence minister.

The violence between the Tama and the Zaghawa communities broke out after an armed group of Tama fighters, who had served under Defence Minister Mahamat Nour, abandoned the eastern town of Guereda last week and moved close to the Sudanese border.

The planned EU peacekeeping force for Chad is intended to protect civilians, refugees and aid workers from violence that has spilled over the border from the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

According to U N figures, there are some 400,000 Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians in Chad and 200,000 displaced people in the Central African Republic.

The EU force for Chad is deploying to complement an even bigger United Nations/African Union force planned for Darfur, where a local rebellion and ethnic fighting since 2003 have killed some 200,000 people, experts say. Sudan's government rejects this figure, saying the death toll is much lower.

REUTERS RSA RN2100

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