By Dany Danzoumbe

N'Djamena - Chad's government said on Wednesday that it had foiled a coup attempt by members of the army who had been plotting to shoot down President Idriss Deby's plane.

Information Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said two high-ranking military plotters, a colonel and a commander, had been captured while others were fleeing towards the east of the country with government forces in hot pursuit.

Deby, himself a former army commander who seized power in the arid, landlocked oil producer in a 1990 revolt, has recently faced a spate of military desertions and attacks from the east by groups of anti-government rebels.

He has repeatedly accused neighbour Sudan of backing efforts to overthrow him, a charge denied by Khartoum. Conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region has spilled over into Chad, forcing thousands from their homes.

Doumgor said the coup plotters had planned to try to shoot down Deby's plane as he returned from a summit of central African leaders held in Bata, Equatorial Guinea this week. The president had returned to N'Djamena late on Tuesday, he added.

"Our defence and security forces moved first to stop the advance of these elements and foil them," the minister said in a statement released in the capital.

"The plotters fled in seven vehicles, of which two have been intercepted and their occupants neutralised," he added.

The attempted coup came weeks before a May 3 presidential election which is widely expected to extend the 16-year rule of 53-year-old Deby.

Doumgor said the masterminds of the coup were former high-ranking civilian and military supporters of Deby who were living in the United States, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Sudan.

Chad had issued international arrest warrants for these people and expected other governments to cooperate, he added.