, KHARTOUM, Feb 8 – Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno arrived Monday in Khartoum on his first visit to Sudan since 2004, amid a thaw in ties between the African neighbours, an AFP correspondent said.
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir greeted Deby at Khartoum\’s airport at the start of a visit expected to help seal last month\’s accord normalising ties which had been strained by reciprocal accusations of support for rebels.
A large Chadian delegation had arrived in Khartoum on Friday to prepare for the visit.
Chad has long accused Sudan of supporting rebels seeking to oust the government, while Khartoum has charged Ndjamena with backing ethnic minority rebels in the conflict-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur.
Under the normalisation deal signed in mid-January, the two countries agreed to deploy a joint force on their border, to ensure that Chad and Sudan stop supporting rebels.
Announcing plans to visit Khartoum last week, Deby said: "I am a man of dialogue and openess. War has never settled things… Chad wants to live in perfect harmony with all its neighbours."
Improved ties between the two countries is seen as a major step towards peace in Darfur, the province in western Sudan where about 300,000 people have died since ethnic rebels revolted in 2003, according to UN estimates. Khartoum says 10,000 were killed.
The two countries broke off diplomatic relations for several months in 2008 after a surprise rebel attack on Ndjamena which came close to overthrowing Deby before government forces rallied to rout the insurgents.
Sudan in July complained to the UN Security Council after Chadian air raids were launched on its territory a few days after another failed rebel offensive on the capital. Chad later admitted it had bombarded rebel rear bases in Darfur.
Deby took power in a military coup in 1990, with Sudan\’s backing, and eastern Chad currently hosts thousands of Sudanese refugees who fled the civil war in Darfur.
Legal teams from both countries were due to meet also on Monday in Ndjamena to carve out the joint force\’s rules of engagement while Sudan is expected to lead the first Chadian-Sudanese border unit.
A Sudanese diplomat has said the force should be made up of 3,000 men, with Sudan and Chad each providing 1,500.