N'DJAMENA, Apr 16 (Reuters) Chad accused Sudan today of trying to use the conflict in Darfur to destabilise the whole of central Africa and it demanded the international community intervene to prevent regional turmoil.
Three days after what Chad says was a Sudanese-backed attack on its capital, President Idriss Deby's government urged the United Nations to take control of Sudan's violence-torn Darfur region and sanction the Sudanese government.
Thursday's dawn raid on N'Djamena by rebel fighters who crossed the desert in pick-up trucks has focused world attention on the risk that the 3-year-old political and ethnic conflict in Darfur could spread across central and west Africa.
N'Djamena was quiet on Sunday but rebel officials told a French newspaper their forces were 25 km from the capital. There was no independent confirmation of this.
Deby, weakened by coup plots and desertions from his army, has said his government will stop sheltering more than 200,000 Darfur refugees unless the United Nations imposes its authority over the vast western Sudanese region by June 30.
''The African Union has not been able to solve the Darfur crisis so far, or stop Sudan from threatening Chad,'' Chadian Territorial Administration Minister General Mahamat Ali Abdallah Nassour told Reuters.
''We believe Sudan has deliberately tried to turn Darfur into a kind of base from which to destabilise the whole of the sub-region, of which Chad is the first step.'' Nassour demanded the international community ''take its responsibility (by) placing Darfur under a UN mandate''.
Deby, who is standing for re-election in a May 3 presidential poll, cut diplomatic ties on Friday with Sudan, which vehemently denies helping the rebels seeking to oust him.
Sudan's SUNA news agency quoted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as saying ''Sudan has no interest in any instability in Chad''.
He repeated Sudan's objection to the United Nations taking over an existing African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.
''ETHNIC CLEANSING'' Since the Darfur conflict erupted in 2003, tens of thousands of people have been killed and around 2 million displaced.
Deby has accused al-Bashir of committing ''genocide'' in Darfur by supporting local Arab militia against non-Arab groups who seek more autonomy from Khartoum.
These groups include the Zaghawa clan, from which Deby comes, who live in both Chad and Sudan.
Analysts say the rebel United Front for Democratic Change (FUC), a loose but fractious alliance of opponents of Deby who carried out the attack on N'Djamena, includes Chadian Arab groups who are pro-Khartoum and rivals to the Zaghawa clan.
''If they take power in Chad, they are likely to cooperate with Khartoum militarily to attack the refugees in Darfur ...
Khartoum is backing them precisely for this purpose,'' Suliman Baldo, Africa programme director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, told Reuters.
''There is a real threat of ethnic cleansing,'' he added.
After Thursday's rebel attacks on the capital and towns in eastern Chad, Central African Republic also announced it was closing its border with Sudan.
Nassour accused Sudanese troops using heavy weapons of taking part in an attack on Thursday on the eastern town of Adre. He said the attackers were chased back into Darfur.
He said some 150 rebels were killed in Adre and around 370 in the raid on N'Djamena. FUC officials denied this, saying their forces lost only 20 in the capital.
CONCERNS LINGER In N'Djamena today, many people in the country's Christian south went to church for the Easter celebrations.
Independence Square, where Deby held a big rally on Saturday, was deserted. Tanks guarded the presidential palace.
Concerns lingered over the possibility of another attack.
''Thursday's attack was a major assault, coordinated, poorly executed at the end, but a remarkable feat,'' said a Western diplomat. ''There are other groups of rebels. It's not over.'' The FUC rebels say they aim to take N'Djamena before the May 3 vote, which is being boycotted by the opposition. Deby will face four candidates linked to his government.
Deby also delivered an ultimatum on Thursday to a U.S.-led oil consortium to pay at least 0 million in royalty payments frozen in a dispute with the World Bank.
If the money is not deposited in a National Treasury account by Tuesday midday, Chad will halt some 160,000 barrels a day of oil production.
REUTERS CH KP2030