( Reuter )- A Chadian rebel leader threatened on Sunday to attack Chad's southern oil-producing Doba region unless France and the United States put pressure on President Idriss Deby to start a dialogue with his foes.
Timane Erdimi, head of the Rally of Forces for Change (RFC) which attacked Chad's capital N'Djamena early in February along with other rebels groups, said his forces could halt oil production from installations in southern Chad pumping up to 160,000 barrels per day (bpd).
"We can carry the war to the south ... if the Americans and the French don't put pressure on Deby to open an all-inclusive dialogue with political and military players," Erdimi told Reuters in a telephone interview.
He said the Doba basin, where U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil Corp heads a consortium pumping 140,000-160,000 bpd of oil via a pipeline to Cameroon's Atlantic coast, could become a military target unless Paris and Washington did more to achieve a political settlement.
"We could quite easily halt the flow of oil," he said.
He was speaking from the Sudanese capital Khartoum three days after Chad's Deby and his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan al-Bashir signed a non-aggression pact in Dakar, Senegal in which they agreed to stop backing rebels hostile to each other.
The Chadian rebels, both Erdimi's RFC and another group, the National Alliance led by Mahamat Nouri, say the Dakar accord does not concern them and have vowed to go on fighting Deby.
The rebels besieged Deby, a French-trained ex-pilot whose forces had intelligence and logistical support from France's military, in his palace for two days before pulling back.
The rebel coalition has since split politically, but Erdimi said they were still cooperating militarily and could strike at the oil-producing south, which has been spared attacks so far.
"The government only controls N'Djamena and the town of Abeche (in the east). That's it," Erdimi said.
Chad's southern oil region borders to the east with Central African Republic, whose lawless northern territory Chadian rebels have crossed through in the past to strike at N'Djamena.
RFC leader Erdimi is a nephew of Deby and a former presidential adviser who went over to the rebel ranks three years ago. His brother Tom, who also defected with him, was previously in charge of the Chadian government's oil policy.
Erdimi said he was "very disappointed" in the failure of the international community -- especially France, the United States and the European Union --- to put real pressure on Deby to seek a negotiated settlement with his armed opponents.
"They're adopting a policy of putting their heads in the sand, they don't want to talk to us," Erdimi said.
"There are hidden interests," he added.
He said French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, despite protestations to the contrary, was still applying its traditional "Francafrique" policy in which France supported African leaders as it chose in its former colonies like Chad, regardless of their democratic and human rights credentials.
"The Americans say that ... as long as the oil is flowing, then everything else is not their affair," Erdimi said.
Exxon Mobil's other partners in the World Bank-backed $3.7 billion Doba pipeline, which started pumping crude in 2003, are another U.S. company, Chevron Corp, and Malaysia's state run Petronas.
Deby's critics accuse him of corrupt, dictatorial rule that has heavily favored his own Zaghawa family clan since he took power himself in an eastern revolt in 1990.