NAIROBI, Kenya — After two days of pitched battles in which military helicopters bombarded rebels on battlewagons and both sides sprayed artillery fire, the capital of the central African nation of Chad was mostly quiet Monday.
\But thousands of frightened civilians fled the capital, N'Djamena, into neighboring Cameroon over the Chari river, fearing that fighting would resume soon.
The refugees included Chadian staff members of the U.S.-based charity group World Vision, who reported that rebels had told civilians to flee, according to Ann Birch, an agency spokeswoman.
Chadian officials said they'd beaten off an attempted coup by the rebel forces, the second coup attempt in the deeply impoverished, oil-producing nation in less than two years. But a rebel spokesman said the anti-government forces were in a "tactical withdrawal."
"We are asking the population to leave," the spokesman, Abderamane Koullamalah, told Radio France International. He warned of a renewed offensive on the heavily guarded presidential palace in the sun-baked capital.
The rebels are a recently formed alliance of three groups that seek to oust Deby, whose regime is widely thought to have stolen millions of dollars in oil revenue since the country began producing oil in 2003. The rebels include allies of former strongman Hissene Habre, whom Deby toppled in a coup 17 years ago, as well as disgruntled former government ministers and one of Deby's nephews.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council was scheduled to meet to craft a resolution backing Chadian President Idriss Deby, who's reportedly holed up in the palace. The rebel assault threatens supply lines to a massive international aid operation in eastern Chad, which is home to more than 200,000 refugees from the Darfur region of neighboring Sudan.
Many diplomats and experts say the rebels are backed by Sudan's government, which has resisted international intervention in Darfur.
"Chad is the victim of aggression by armed groups who want to take power by force," Jean-Maurice Ripert, the U.N. ambassador from France, the former colonial power in Chad, said Sunday. "It's essential to us that the Security Council responds quickly."
The aid agency Doctors Without Borders treated 70 people over the weekend for injuries, many from stray gunfire, according to Susan Sandars, a spokeswoman in Nairobi, Kenya. There are reports of many more dead and injured in and around the capital, Sandars said, but medical teams so far have been unable to reach them.
"It's very difficult to move around," Sandars said. "The road is packed with people trying to evacuate."