DAKAR (Reuters) - Chad on Thursday accused Sudan of sending anti-government rebels across their border into its territory as international mediators struggled to broker a fresh peace accord between the two neighbors.
The accusation soured the opening in Senegal on Thursday of a summit of the world’s Islamic leaders, including the presidents of Chad and Sudan who were due to meet to try to reactivate a string of failed past peace pacts between them.
Landlocked Chad, an oil-producing country in central Africa, beat back a rebel attack on its capital last month.
“The Chadian government informs national and international opinion that Sudan on Wednesday March 12, 2008 launched several heavily armed columns against Chad,” an official statement released in N’Djamena said.
Calling the attacking forces “mercenaries”, the usual term it uses for Chadian rebels, the Chadian government said the incursion took place at Moudeina on its eastern frontier with Sudan’s Darfur.
There was no immediate independent confirmation of an attack, but international sources in Sudan’s war-torn western Darfur region on the border said Chadian rebels had gathered there earlier this week. Sudan made no immediate comment.
The Chadian rebel National Alliance denied the accusation from N’Djamena, calling it an attempt by President Idriss Deby to confuse the international community. It said its forces were already previously operating inside Chad.
Chad, which has often accused Khartoum of backing insurgents fighting to topple Deby, made the latest accusation shortly before a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) opened in Dakar. Sudan routinely denies such charges.
On the eve of the summit, Deby and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had been due to meet in Dakar late on Wednesday for talks under Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s mediation.
But Bashir failed to show up for the late night encounter after keeping Wade, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S., French and European Union diplomatic witnesses waiting for nearly three hours at the presidential palace.
Wade, embarrassed, said the Sudanese leader had told him he had a headache, and rescheduled the meeting for Thursday.
Sudanese officials confirmed a meeting between Bashir and Deby was planned on Thursday to try to revive a string of past peace accords which have failed to stop conflict on their common border, including Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.
Around 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 in Darfur’s conflict, which pits Sudanese government forces and allied militia against local rebels who say the western region has been neglected and marginalized by the Khartoum government.
The conflict has spilled over into Chad and Central African Republic.
“The Chadian government hopes that the international community will this time take all the necessary measures to dissuade Sudan in this new attempt to destabilize Chad,” the official Chadian statement said.
Wade, who has sought a mediation role in several African conflicts, has drafted a peace accord to be signed by Deby and Bashir in the hope it can help end the hostility.
N’Djamena and Khartoum have long traded accusations of supporting rebels hostile to each other.
Bashir, who accuses Deby of failing to respect previous deals, has questioned the usefulness of yet another accord .
Rebels from both Chad and Sudan’s Darfur region, which many see as fighting a proxy war for the feuding presidents, have dismissed the planned pact, criticizing it for failing to include them and saying it would not bring lasting peace.
Rejecting N’Djamena’s latest accusation, Chadian rebel National Alliance representative Ali Ordjo Hemchi said President Deby was trying to “mix things up”. “Saying the columns came from Sudan is a way of saying we depend on Sudan which isn’t true. We’re inside Chadian territory,” he told Reuters.
Alex de Waal, an analyst on Sudan and Chad, said he did not believe either Deby or Bashir were interested in signing a serious peace deal. “If they do, it’ll be purely for tactical reasons, to gain credit with the world community,” he said.
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Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn, Lamine Ghanmi and Alistair Thomson in Dakar
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