N'DJAMENA, Chad Turbaned troops patrolled the streets of Chad's capital in pickup trucks Friday while residents took stock of the damage from days of fierce fighting that brought rebels to the doorstep of the presidential palace.
Hundreds of civilians were killed and about 1,000 were wounded in the weekend violence in the oil-rich Central African nation, Chad Red Cross officials said. Thousands fled into neighboring Cameroon, though many were headed back Friday.
The U.N. peacekeeping chief warned that the rivalry between Chad and Sudan which accuse each other of backing the other's rebellions could explode into an international conflict. Their shared border is along Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region. Chad hosts almost a half-million Darfur refugees and Chadians displaced by the spillover from the violence.
Half the stores remained shut in the capital N'Djamena on Friday and many had doors forced open, exposing their bare shelves. Buildings were scorched by rocket fire and pockmarked with bullet holes. Looted goods such as mattresses and car parts were strewn about.
Some looters began giving up stolen goods, fearing house-to-house searches, residents said. Some property was left outside the offices of local administrators or dumped on roadsides. A reporter saw a sofa and a pile of carpets left on the median of one road.
"This is very difficult," said Adam Mohammed, 38, who said his electrical appliance shop was destroyed when government troops opened fire on rebels hiding in the capital's main market. "If the war continues it will be terrible. We want change, but not this way." A guard said government helicopter gunships destroyed the market over the weekend.
Mohammed was salvaging some replacement plugs and fuses amid the wreckage of twisted corrugated iron, damaged goods and ashes among remains of the market.
"This can't help the country develop," said Abatimi Kosse, a 35-year-old electrician. "How can we move forward like this?"
At the United Nations, peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno warned that the accusations being traded between Chad and Sudan increase the climate of mistrust.
Guehenno said the animosity "fuels tensions between the two countries and once again demonstrate the potential for a conflict of international dimensions in the area."
Chad repeatedly has said Sudan backed the coup attempt to prevent the deployment of a European Union peacekeeping force meant to protect refugees along its eastern border. The fighting in N'Djamena led to the EU force's arrival being delayed.
Last week, Chad accused Sudan of deploying its troops with rebels who attacked the strategic eastern Chadian town of Adre. Sudan denied involvement, but it has long resisted an EU troop deployment.
President Idriss Deby, himself a coup leader, is accused of nepotism and embezzling millions of dollars in oil revenue during his 17 years in office.
But the weekend coup attempt, with soldiers expelling the rebels from the capital on Sunday, appears to be a struggle within the elite that long has corruptly controlled Chad. The rebel leaders include former defense minister Mahamat Nouri and Timan Erdimi, a nephew of Deby who was his chief of staff.
European officials hope to send an advance team of 250 troops to Chad early next week to lay the groundwork for an EU force, "if the circumstances allow it," spokesman Col. Philippe de Cussac said at the force's headquarters in Paris. About 150 men are already on the ground, and officials were planning to send more troops in about 15 days.
Chad has repeatedly said neighboring Sudan is backing the rebels to try to prevent European peacekeepers from deploying. The troops would guard nearly a half million refugees and Chadians displaced by violence in neighboring Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region. Sudan has denied involvement, but has long resisted such a force.
It was unclear where the rebels were Friday. Chad's president said Wednesday his men were pursuing them across the desert and wanted to stop them before the reached the border with Sudan. The rebels have not answered their satellite telephones since Tuesday.
Chad's government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew across the country Thursday, though Deby had claimed his forces controlled the entire country. Troops patrolled the streets of the capital Friday in pickup trucks, some with mounted machine guns, one with an anti-aircraft cannon. Troops stopped cars, checking people's identification cards.
Prime Minister Nouradin Koumakoye said the government was hunting down the many "plotters and their accomplices" hiding in N'Djamena. Amnesty International said it feared a "major witch hunt" and charged that summary killings already are taking place.
New York-based Human Rights Watch had expressed concern about four arrested opposition politicians who were not involved in the fighting. The group says Deby opponents have been tortured, killed and made to disappear in the past.
The prime minister said he knew nothing about the jailed politicians.
The U.N. estimates at least 30,000 Chadians fled across the Chari River to the Cameroonian town of Kousseri after rebels and government forces clashed over the weekend.
N'Djamena has been calm since Wednesday, and Chadians were streaming back Friday, complaining food and other necessities were scarce in the camps.