Three killed in foiled Chad coup

At least three people were killed in a foiled coup attempt in Chad, the foreign minister said Thursday, and several arrested over the plot in the chronically unstable former French colony.

Security services had for months been monitoring "a group of individuals who were preparing a plot against the state's institutions" and swooped on one of their meetings in the capital on Wednesday, Moussa Faki said.

Some of them "responded by firing on the security forces. One officer was shot dead and in response two members of the group were gunned down. The others were arrested," Faki said on the sidelines of a meeting in Brazzaville.

A police source told AFP earlier on Thursday that "several" people had been killed and around 15 others injured in a shootout between security forces and the alleged conspirators on the outskirts of N'Djamena a day earlier.

Speaking before the foreign ministry update, some police sources spoke of six deaths, while others claimed eight were killed in the incident, "three of whom were security forces".

The government serving under President Idriss Deby Itno, who himself came to power in a 1990 coup, on Wednesday said a "small group" had been planning "a destabilisation plot" while police and opposition sources said one of the detainees was an opposition lawmaker.

A police source said soldiers and civilians also took part in the alleged plot.

The situation appeared calm in the Chadian capital on Thursday, with residents going about their usual day-to-day activities.

"A small group of ill-intentioned individuals attempted to carry out a destabilisation plot against the institutions of the republic," the government said in a statement Wednesday.

It added that the army had "neutralised" the group and that the arrested ringleaders had been handed over to prosecutors for investigation.

"This small group... had been conspiring for more than four months to jeopardise the country's hard-won peace," it said.

Between 2005 and 2010, Deby's regime faced rebellions that destabilised large swathes of the vast country.

On Saturday, Deby told Radio France Internationale that "mercenaries", currently in Libya's second largest city Benghazi, were trying to "regroup Chadians".

A police source said that "several civilians and soldiers, including Saleh Makki," an opposition lawmaker, had been arrested.

Opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo said in an email to AFP that he received reports of "numerous" arrests in the capital N'Djamena and that "several sources" had confirmed to him that Makki was among those arrested.

France on Thursday said it had noted the latest events in Chad "with concern", and called on the country's government and opposition to engage in "calm and constructive dialogue" with each other.

Chad recently started producing oil but is still one of the world's poorest nations and was ranked fourth on the Fund For Peace's 2012 failed state index.

In March 2006, the government said soldiers and police had thwarted a bid to overthrow Deby's regime and kill him by shooting down his aircraft.

In 2008 rebels from the region bordering Sudan came close to overthrowing the Deby regime, briefly entering the capital before being pushed back with the help of French forces.

Deby came to power in a December 1990 coup when he overthrew Hissene Habre, who seized power in 1982 after a two-year civil war. Deby had been Habre's military adviser.

Six years later he won the sub-Saharan nation's first multi-party presidential election since independence from France in 1960.

Earlier this year, Chad sent around 2,000 troops to Mali to contribute to a French-led military offensive to dislodge Islamist extremists who had seized large swathes of the north last year.

Its parliament voted this month to gradually withdraw the troops, which are highly trained, well equipped and experienced in desert warfare.

Observers saw Deby's deployment of the largest African force to Mali as a bid to take a leading role in the region and fill part of the power vacuum left by Moamer Kadhafi's demise in neighbouring Libya.

Chad also recently deployed troops to the Central African Republic, where Francois Bozize was ousted by rebels in March.