Chad Conflict Rages On

Fighting raged on for a third day Monday in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, as rebels sought to take control of the oil-rich African nation.

Gunfire and explosions were heard throughout the city and there were reports of looting over the weekend as chaos and fear reigned.

American officials in Chad, including the U.S. ambassador, abandoned the U.S. Embassy and fled to the airport for safety.

The State Department warned the rebels today not to enter the embassy compound, which is officially U.S. territory.

The embassy was hit by limited gunfire during recent fighting, although it was not said to be the target of any attack, and there were no reported injuries. U.S. officials noted that the rebels have stated they have no intention of attacking Americans.

U.S. Ambassador to Chad Louis Nigro will stay in the country for the time being with a small contingent of essential staff. However, the embassy is warning that "Americans who decide to remain in the capital are advised that under the circumstances the embassy's ability to provide services is extremely limited."

The rebels entered the country across Chad's eastern border with Sudan and pushed toward the capital intent upon overthrowing Chad's president, Idriss Deby. U.S. officials said they believe Deby is still in the country.

Government forces have reportedly beaten back the rebel offensive, although internal State Department reports Monday indicated that an additional 60 rebel vehicles had recently crossed the Sudanese border and were headed for the capital.

The rebels are reportedly backed by the government of neighboring Sudan, something the State Department today called "very worrying." Spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. has relayed its concerns to the highest levels of the Sudanese government.

"We have gone in directly to very high levels of the Sudanese government to say that if there is any support from the Sudanese government to these rebels, that that should end immediately and that any influence they might have with the rebels they should use in order to tell them to withdraw. We've done this at the highest level of our Embassy in Khartoum, directly into the presidency, as well as to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," he said.

Over the weekend the State Department condemned the rebel attacks, saying "The United States joins the African Union in condemning the attempt by armed rebels entering from outside the country to seize power extra-constitutionally in Chad," State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth said Sunday.

"Our primary concern at this time is for the safety and well-being of American citizens. We urge all parties to stop the fighting to protect no-combatants to end the violence and to pursue peaceful means of resolving their differences," he added.

As local residents fled the fighting the French military, which maintains a defense agreement with its former colony, rounded up foreigners throughout the city to help them escape the violence.

"All official Americans are accounted for," the State Department said.

The U.S. Embassy in N'Djamena has ordered all non-emergency U.S. government personnel to leave the country. The United States and France are providing assistance to private citizens wishing to leave the country.

As of yesterday the airport in the capital was open, although no commercial flights were operating.

An initial evacuation flight lifted 25 Americans to neighboring Cameroon on Saturday, and more have since left.

The State Department said Sunday that less than 100 Americans have left the country, while others are still waiting for evacuation. France's ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said the French military had helped over 700 foreign citizens leave the country.

The U.N. Security Council approved a presidential statement Monday that, in part, "calls upon member states to provide support, in conformity with the United Nations Charter, as requested by the government of Chad."

This could give the green light for countries to use force to back Chad's president against the rebels if such force is requested by the government.

However, stronger resolution language that would support the "legal government of Chad" by "all necessary means" was removed over objections by Russia, which holds veto power on the council. Such language could have permitted the use of force to defend Deby's government.

The African Union called on the leaders of Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo to mediate a resolution to the crisis.

The fighting has also hindered efforts to care for thousands of refugees from Darfur who are sheltered in eastern Chad. Earlier in the week the UN's refugee agency pulled most of its workers out of eastern Chad, where it operates refugee camps for around 30,000 Darfur refugees, after its facilities were attacked by rebel forces.