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UN chief warns of escalation of fighting in Chad

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 (Reuters) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that fighting in Chad, where rebels are trying to unseat the government, could have a domino effect in the region.

''If you have another escalation in Chad you risk destabilizing the whole region, not just Chad but also the Central African Republic, a sort of domino effect that we have seen in the Great Lakes region,'' Annan said of the conflicts in central Africa.

''We really should do everything to prevent it here,'' he told reporters yesterday after his monthly lunch with the 15 Security Council ambassadors.

Chadian President Idriss Deby is seeking help in stopping rebels he says are backed by neighboring Sudan. Some reports say the rebels are operating from a base in Sudan's Darfur region and are supported by pro-Sudan government militia.

The rebels launched an unsuccessful assault last Thursday on the capital of N'Djamena.

But Deby has assured the United Nations he would not expel more than 200,000 refugees in Chad who had fled violence in Darfur. This softened a threat he made on Friday when he cut diplomatic ties with Sudan.

However, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that UN food eliveries had been disrupted in five Chadian camps but completed in five others.

Annan said he raised at the Security Council lunch reports of Sudan's involvement. ''If indeed the evidence is there that troops came from across the border of another country to attack one, the council cannot remain silent.'' He said he had spoken by telephone over the weekend to Deby, Congo Republic President and African Union Chairman Denis Sassou Nguesso, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others ''to see what can be done.'' ''I think it is important that the African Union, and all the countries in the region, and the international community, maintain the pressure on the two countries not to escalate,'' Annan said.

He said he still hoped for a peace agreement this month at talks in Abuja, Nigeria, between the Sudan government and Darfur rebels opposing it. But he acknowledged, ''I have no certainty that there will be an agreement by the end of April.'' The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 when mostly non-Arab tribes took up arms accusing the Arab-dominated Khartoum government of neglect.

The government retaliated by arming mainly Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, who began a campaign of murder, rape, arson and plunder that drove more than 2 million villagers into squalid camps in Darfur and in Chad. Khartoum denies responsibility.

REUTERS PDS PM0627

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