NAIROBI, Kenya — The latest attempted coup in Chad, where rebels battled government forces for the third straight day Monday, has broad implications for a war-scarred, desperately poor patch of central Africa that's already reeling from the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
Experts think that the rebels are backed by Sudan and that if the coup succeeds, the rebels could impede humanitarian relief operations for Darfur, which borders eastern Chad, and threaten international military forces that are trying to stabilize the region.
The rebels' fortunes appeared to be waning Monday. After two days of heavy street battles that reportedly injured hundreds, Chadian government officials said they'd forced the rebels from the capital, N'Djamena. Rebel leaders said they were regrouping for a new offensive, but with phone lines cut and many residents fleeing the city, the accounts were impossible to verify.
A U.N. official said that sporadic shelling resumed in the afternoon, ending a brief lull that had allowed tens of thousands of refugees to escape across the western border and over the Chari river into Cameroon.
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 Kenya. There are reports of many more dead and injured in and around the capital, 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."
The United Nations Security Council condemned the rebel action and called on member countries to support President Idriss Deby's regime, although it didn't explicitly authorize military force.
The coup attempt is the second in as many years, and it underscores the complex links between Chad and Sudan, two oil-producing nations that have become bitter enemies, each accusing the other of supporting rebellions.
The last serious coup attempt in Chad fell apart in 2006 when a loose federation of rebels reportedly got lost on the wide, unmarked boulevards of N'Djamena and couldn't find Deby's palace.
In contrast, the new rebel alliance made a well-organized, three-day push last week from the Sudanese border west to N'Djamena, furnished with 300 new Toyotas and Sudanese uniforms, Chadian officials said.
The rebel alliance comprises three groups of former Deby allies, including one of his nephews. They have deep grievances with the president, who took power in a 1990 coup and rewrote constitutional term limits three years ago to remain in office.
The rebels accuse Deby's regime of stealing millions of dollars in revenue from the country's new oil fields, which began pumping in 2005 and now contribute half of Chad's paltry national budget.
Sudan has denied backing Chadian rebels. But Sudanese officials have much to gain if Deby's regime falls. Khartoum accuses Deby of furnishing Darfur rebel groups with supplies and allowing them to operate from bases in eastern Chad. If it holds together, a regime of Sudan-friendly rebels presumably would put a stop to that, experts said.
"The rebel movements in Darfur would have to revise their strategy," said Paul-Simon Handy, an analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, a research center in South Africa. "If they lose the friendly regime in N'Djamena, they will certainly lose one of their biggest sources of logistical support."
Sudan has resisted foreign intervention in Darfur, and a successful coup also could damage a growing international relief operation based in eastern Chad. The desert-like, bandit-ridden region is home to some 420,000 people in refugee camps, but the U.N. refugee agency, which manages the settlements, has evacuated nearly all its international staff because of the fighting.
"The risk is high of pillaging, banditry, looting, panic," said Sally Chin, an analyst with the International Crisis Group research center.
The clashes also have forced delays in deploying a 3,700-person European Union military force led by France that was supposed to begin arriving this week and would have the authority to protect refugees and aid workers in eastern Chad.
With European troops due to land, the rebels needed to act quickly.
"The rebels knew themselves that with a (European) force in that zone, their margin of maneuver would become quite limited," Chin said.