European nationals, including some 50 German citizens, have been evacuated from the central African nation of Chad as rebels and government forces clashed in the capital city of N'Djamena.
Evacuees arrive in Paris
In a show of pessimism over the long-term security in the Central African country of Chad, Germany shuttered its embassy and coordinated the voluntary evacuation about 50 Germans nationals.
The landlocked country saw heavy fighting over the weekend between government troops and Chadian rebels who want to overthrow President Idriss Deby. Aid groups said the clashes left hundreds injured and an unknown number dead.
European nationals began evacuating Sunday, Feb. 3 and Monday with the help of French, American and UN troops.
France helped evacuate foreign nationals
A first flight of 202 foreigners of 27 different nationalities was evacuated from Chad by the French on Sunday. A second flight brought 363 more people to Paris early Monday morning on a plane chartered by the French foreign ministry. A third evacuation flight would be carried out if needed, French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher said Monday.
Several dozen German nationals remain in Chad.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hailed the coordinated evacuation efforts as a clear sign of European solidarity.
"I am very relieved that the weekend evacuation from N'Djamena was successfully carried out," Steinmeier said.
France willing to increase role
Rebels want to share power in Chad
France, the former colonial power in Chad, has military aircraft and 1,450 troops stationed in the country. Paris sent an additional 150 troops to evacuate foreigners. The increased instability has led to the EU suspending its plans to deploy a peacekeeping mission to the country.
France has insisted it will remain neutral in the conflict, yet French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said his country could become more involved if the UN Security Council requests it. Sarkozy also ordered French fighter jets to the border with Sudan.
A rebel spokesman said he was shocked by the "direct involvement of France in the conflict," alleging that French warplanes had caused "enormous" civilian casualties.
Sudan accused of meddling
Idriss Deby's government is under fire
Rebels accuse Deby, who has ruled Chad for 18 years, of being a corrupt dictator. They have insisted that the president begin negotiations on power-sharing and have promised a full-blown war if he refuses.
The UN Security Council urged countries in the region to respect common borders. Chad's government accuses Sudan of supporting rebels. A Chadian general told Radio France Internationale Tuesday that his country was at war with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.
The Sudanese president "wants to destabilize and Balkanize Chad," general Mahamat Ali Abdallah Nassour said in the radio interview.
Chadians also fleeing
Chad is home to hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees
The oil-rich country is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region. The weekend fighting caused more than 15,000 Chadians to flee the capital.
The refugees have been streaming into neighboring Cameroon, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday.
Chad's government said it has been able to drive rebels out of N'Djamena. Rebels deny that, saying their withdrawal from the city was strategic and that they are planning a fresh offensive to oust Deby.
African mediators are expected to arrive in N'Djamena on Tuesday, Feb. 5.