NDJAMENA (AFP) — The head of the African Union, Jean Ping, held talks with the presidents of Chad and Sudan on Thursday in a bid to resolve growing tensions between the two countries.
AU Commission chief Ping met President Idriss Deby in the Chadian capital and was to later hold discussions with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir in neighbouring Khartoum.
On Saturday, rebels from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur staged an unprecedented attack on Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman -- the first time that the capital has ever been involved in decades of regional fighting.
More than 200 people were killed in that assault and other clashes outside the city in recent days.
Sudan accused Chad of backing the rebels and broke off diplomatic ties with N'Djamena on Sunday. Chad closed its border the following day, ramping up tensions.
Ping said Thursday: "The current situation between Chad and Sudan is very worrying.
"For that reason I have come to N'Djamena and I will go on to Khartoum this evening.
"Our aim is to do everything possible to reduce the tensions raised by the attack on Omdurman."
"It is our aim to persuade the two parties to begin a dialogue and to bring Chad and Sudan back to the negotiating table. We want to avoid the situation worsening."
The Chadian foreign minister told AFP on Wednesday his country was overwhelmed by the refugee crisis along its border with Sudan and urged the international community to step in and resolve the Darfur conflict.
Some 250,000 refugees have flooded into Chad from the civil war that has been ravaging Darfur for the past five years, with another 190,000 people driven from their homes.
"This is a lot. It's a human, social and environmental problem. Chad is suffering the consequences of this conflict... We already have enough on our hands trying to ensure the development of our people," said Moussa Faki, who was formerly Chadian prime minister.
Faki denied that Chad was involved in the assault on Omdurman, which was carried out by the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and refuted suggestions that Chad financed the group.
"That's totally wrong. We don't support the rebellion, we are not looking to destabilise Sudan. The opposite is true. We condemn and have already firmly condemned the rebel attack."
He said that instead of quibbling over the origin of the attacks, the conflict in Darfur must be resolved to stem the disastrous effects it is having on the surrounding region.
"The issue of Darfur has to be resolved. The epicentre is Darfur, the consequences are waves that have spread to neighbouring countries. The sooner the Darfur conflict is resolved, the better it will be for everybody," said Faki.
He urged that the deployment of a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission be accelerated.
The 26,000-strong force is not yet fully manned because of a row over non-African contingents, with Sudan insisting that African options must be explored fully first.
"It's high time the international community convinces Sudan to solve the Darfur problem. The hybrid force must be deployed," said Faki.
Relations between Chad and Sudan have been strained since 2003 when war broke out in Darfur, sending hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing across the Chadian border.
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