Khartoum: Chad refused entry to a Darfur rebel leader on his way back to the battlefield on Wednesday, ordering him to return to Libya after a 19-hour diplomatic standoff at the country`s main airport.
Chadian officials had stopped Khalil Ibrahim, the head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), when he flew into the Chadian capital N`Djamena from Libya at 1 am (8 pm ET).
They destroyed the passports of everyone in his party and ordered him to return to Tripoli, Ibrahim said.
The showdown was a major setback for the rebel group which in the past had strong links with Chad`s leadership and regularly used the country as a base for its troops and a transit point for its officials.
"He is in the air," top JEM official al-Tahir al-Feki said, adding he was returning to Tripoli after 19 hours on board a Libyan Afriqiyah airlines plane.
"We are still hopeful he will be able to return to the field," he added.
Libya also shares a border with Darfur.
Ibrahim said there was a "conspiracy" between the Chadian government and international mediators to force JEM to return to floundering Qatar-hosted peace talks with Sudan`s government.
Chad`s Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir said his country did not want JEM passing through.
"We have re-established relations with Sudan so we cannot allow these undesirable people to pass through Chad," he said.
Khartoum has long accused Chad of supporting and arming JEM during the seven-year conflict. But the oil-producing countries began a rapprochement at the end of 2009, and in February Chad brokered a ceasefire and an initial peace deal between JEM and Sudan`s government.