Chad says wants peace with Sudan but will hit rebels

Sat Apr 14, 2007 2:48pm EDT

(Adds quotes from Chad foreign minister, background)

By Michael Georgy

KHARTOUM, April 14 (Reuters) - Chad's foreign minister said on Saturday his country wanted a peaceful resolution to border conflict with Sudan but would use military force against rebels and Sudanese militias it accuses of entering its territory.

Ahmat Allam-Mi was in Sudan's capital Khartoum on Saturday to meet Sudanese President Omar Hassan-al Bashir after a border clash which left several dead.

"We want peace, we don't want problems," he told reporters.

"If these groups, these mercenaries, hit us again, we will go after them wherever they go, and we hope the Sudanese brothers permit us to go after them into Sudan because they are the ones causing problems."

On Tuesday Chad said its armed forces had clashed with Sudanese troops after pursuing Sudanese-backed rebels over the border. Sudan said 17 of its soldiers had been killed.

Chad has repeatedly accused Sudan of backing rebels in Chad and of supporting attacks by Janjaweed militia, based in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, into Chad. The Sudanese government calls the Janjaweed outlaws and says it has no ties to them.

"They hit us in Chad and they go into Sudanese territory. They are the ones causing problems, the Janjaweed and the mercenaries."

The border incident is the latest in a series of disputes between Chad and Sudan as violence from the four-year-old conflict in Darfur has spilled over the border into eastern Chad.

"We apologised but we can't say the responsbility was ours alone. The (Sudanese) forces were not supposed to be in that area. But I don't believe the other side has the same view of what happened there," said Allam-Mi, who gave Bashir a message from Chadian President Idriss Deby.

"The two presidents want to solve the problems directly."

Bashir has said he hopes the dispute can be settled peacefully.

Officials from the African Union, whose peacekeepers have failed to ease violence in Darfur, say the conflict cannot be resolved unless hostilities cease on the Sudan-Chad border.

Libya, to the north, has intervened in an effort to lower tensions between the two oil-producing neighbours, who are engaged in negotiations with the United Nations over plans to deploy peacekeepers in Darfur and eastern Chad.

Libya said this week it and Eritrea had deployed military and security observers on the Chad-Sudan border.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is currently in Sudan and is due to visit Chad and Libya on a regional tour to discuss the crisis in Darfur, which he visited on Saturday.

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