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.
First Published: Thursday, May 20, 2010, 15:30