Sudan severed relations with Chad yesterday, accusing it of supporting fighters who assaulted the capital the night before and warned that a top Darfur rebel leader was hiding somewhere in the city.
Khartoum was still under curfew and reeling from the surprise assault late on Saturday by Darfur rebels operating hundreds of milometers from their bases in the far west of the country.
The government issued several statements claiming to have crushed the rebels and paraded images of captured and bloodied fighters on television.
“I would like to assure people that everything is now under control, the rebel forces have been totally destroyed,” Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said in a televised address yesterday, wearing military fatigues. “These forces come from Chad who trained them ... we hold the Chadian regime fully responsible for what happened. We have no choice but to sever relations.”
Al-Bashir said he reserved the right to retaliate against the “outlaw regime,” raising the specter of a border war between the two countries who have long traded accusations over support for each others’ rebels.
The Interior Ministry called on people in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman to remain inside while it searched for “infiltrators” — rebels who had doffed their uniforms in the fighting to hide among the people.
“Security forces need more time to provide full protection for the people and for their property,” the ministry said in a statement.
State television for the first time ever broadcast a picture of Khalil Ibrahim, leader of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which carried out the assault, asking citizens to call a special hotline if they saw him because he was hiding somewhere in Omdurman.
The JEM has become one of the most effective rebel movements in Darfur, where ethnic Africans took up arms against the government in 2003 to protest discrimination. In the last year, it has expanded its operations into the neighboring province of Kordofan, even attacking oil installations.
Saturday’s assault, however, was the first time they had made it anywhere near the capital.
While the rebels declared the assault a success, the government was quick to describe it as a disaster for the rebels.
“This attempt was a foolish act and those who carried it out did not take into account the negative consequences — the attempt was based on lies and disinformation,” military spokesman Brigadier General Osman al-Agbash said.
The instability on Sudan’s western border has spilled over into neighboring Chad, with armed groups and refugees crossing the remote border on a regular basis.
“These forces are Chadian forces originally, they moved from there led by Khalil Ibrahim who is an agent of the Chadian regime. It is a Chadian attack,” al-Bashir said.