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Ceasefire in Chad fighting as thousands flee capital

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  • NEW: Chadian foreign minister says rebels now 31 miles outside of capital
  • French and Chadian officials say fighting has stopped in capital city
  • Aid agencies struggle to care for over 20,000 refugees in Cameroon
  • Chad accuses neighboring Sudan of supporting the rebels
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(CNN) -- Fighting has stopped in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, French and Chadian officials said Tuesday, after a rebel uprising that has forced more than 20,000 people from their homes in the past few days.

Chad's army has driven the rebels out of the capital and the rebels are now on the run, Chadian Foreign Minister Amad Allam-Mi said in Paris after talks with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner. Allam-Mi said the rebels were now 50 km (31 miles) outside the capital, N'Djamena.

Earlier, Chad's ambassador to the EU, Maitine Djoumbe, told CNN that the army was in control of the capital, fighting had stopped, and that some rebels had been driven back.

"The situation is now calm in the city," he said from N'Djamena.

A rebel spokesman told Radio France International his group accepted the principle of a ceasefire, but Kouchner indicated the point was now moot because the fighting had already stopped.

Rebels attacked the Chadian capital on Saturday in an attempt to overthrow the government. The fighting forced thousands to flee the capital, most of them going to the Cameroonian city of Kousseri, just across the river from N'Djamena.

A UNHCR spokeswoman said Tuesday that there were at least 20,000 refugees now in Kousseri, many of them without adequate food, water, or shelter.

Volunteers from the International Committee of the Red Cross were taking advantage of the lull in fighting to patrol the city and pick up the wounded, the aid group said.

Several hundred wounded were being treated at a hospital in N'Djamena, where an ICRC surgical team was working, and at a medical center south of the city run by Doctors Without Borders, the ICRC said.

"Fighting and looting has been going on since Sunday and the situation remains unstable," the ICRC said.

Chad accuses neighboring Sudan of supporting the rebels, but Sudan denies the accusation, instead blaming the problem on rebel movements within Chad.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday condemned the fighting and allowed member states to come to the aid of Chad's government. That would allow French troops, who are already in the capital, to use force against the rebels.

Kouchner said countries which support Chad's government were "reassured" by the council's declaration. But asked whether France would intervene militarily, Kouchner said it was pointless to discuss it because the fighting had now stopped.

Monday, French troops drove around N'Djamena in armored vehicles evacuating foreigners. Video shot by the troops showed streets empty of everyone but occasional groups of rebel fighters.

Aid organizations including the World Food Program, UNHCR, and UNICEF said they were rushing to the Kousseri to tend to the thousands of residents who have fled there in recent days.

Two trucks and a plane full of supplies left Yaounde on Tuesday bound for Kousseri, Desamours said. They were bringing items such as tents, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen items, mosquito nets, lanterns, water, and medical kits, she said.

The UNHCR said many of the refugees were staying with relatives in Kousseri, while others were staying in schools or hotels. More than 6,000 refugees, however, were sleeping in the open at a "transit center" near the bridge over the river from N'Djamena, and the UNHCR described them as the most vulnerable.

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"We are planning to move these people as soon as possible to a better campsite in Maltam, 32 kilometers from Kousseri," the UNHCR said in a statement. "It's an old campsite used by UNHCR several years ago. The site in Maltam could host up to 100,000 people and is already equipped with wells.

World Vision spokesman Levourne Tassiri said he had already been to Kousseri, where he said the situation for refugees was desperate.

"I saw people who are living without shelter, without food, without blankets," Tassiri said from Maroua, Cameroon, just across the border from Chad. He said many were without drinking water.

"To see a human being suffer like this -- you know, it's not good," he said. "I am wondering after a few days, what people will do."

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The fighting in N'Djamena, in western Chad, has delayed the deployment of 3,700 EU peacekeepers to the country's east, Kouchner said. The European Union approved the deployment last month with a U.N. mandate to protect refugees and aid operations on the Chadian side of the border with Sudan.

Kouchner said the peacekeepers would only be delayed by a couple of days and that the rebellion was "just another indication" of why they were necessary. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Nic Robertson in Cameroon and Tom Burges Watson in London contributed to this report.

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