Chad’s president makes rare visit to Sudan to ease tension over Darfur region

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chad’s leader travels to Sudan to smooth relations

KHARTOUM, Sudan — The president of Chad traveled to neighboring Sudan Monday for the first time in nearly six years to try to smooth relations strained over the troubled Darfur region.

Sudan has accused its neighbor of backing the Darfur rebels it has battled since 2003. Likewise, Chad says Sudan is aiding its rebel enemies. Each country denies the other’s accusations.

The prospect of reconciliation between the two nations could encourage prospects of a peace deal for Darfur, where fighting has ebbed over the past year. Negotiations on a Darfur peace deal are under way in the Gulf nation of Qatar.

U.N. officials have warned that, while Darfur fighting has declined, tension remains high along the Sudan-Chad border, raising the prospect of a new, expanded conflict.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir greeted Chad’s leader, Idriss Deby, at the airport Monday.

Al-Bashir told his visitor he wants peace to prevail along the border and to see it safe for trade, according to Sudan’s official SUNA news agency.

Deby said he came to “break the boundaries and strains” that are preventing peace between Sudan and Chad.

“We extend sincere hands for the sake of peace,” Deby said, according to SUNA.

Most observers agree that peace won’t prevail in Darfur until relations between the two countries are smoothed.

Many Darfur rebels come from tribes that overlap the two countries’ border, and some have bases in Chad, leading Sudan to suspect that some are receiving support from members of Chad’s government who might be linked to them by tribal relations. Deby and many of his senior military officers come from eastern Chad and have relatives living in Darfur.

The two countries signed recently agreements pledging to deny support for each other’s rebels and to monitor borders.

Darfur’s ethnic African rebels rose up in 2003, accusing Sudan’s Arab-dominated central government of neglect and discrimination. U.N. officials estimated 300,000 people died and 2.7 million were displaced.

Chad faces its own threat from rebels who have tried for years to overthrow Deby. That revolt was sparked by disagreements within the president’s inner circle about how to handle the Darfur conflict.

An attempted Chadian rebel attack on the capital in 2009 prompted Chad to respond with airstrikes inside Sudanese territory, where some Chadian rebels are based.

Darfur peace talks, which started last year, have been dragging on because of mistrust between rebels and the government, and because one major rebel faction refuses to take part.

Deby, who is to stay in Sudan until Tuesday, is also scheduled to meet with the Darfur mediator from the U.N.-African Union mission, Djibril Bassole, who returned to Sudan from Qatar to discuss with him how the talks are progressing.

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