France's defense minister flew to Chad on Wednesday in a show of support for President Idriss Deby who survived a weekend assault on the capital N'Djamena by rebels.

Herve Morin's visit came as France, which has warplanes and more than 1,000 troops stationed in its former colony, threw its weight behind Deby, who has fought off several bids by rebels to end his 18-year rule in the central African oil producer.

I can confirm that Mr Morin is in N'Djamena and will be visiting French troops and the Chadian authorities, a spokesman at the French military base in N'Djamena told Reuters.

After obtaining U.N. Security Council backing for Deby's government, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday his country could intervene if called upon against the rebels, whom Chad says are backed by neighbor Sudan. Khartoum denies this.

In Paris, a defense Ministry source said Morin would be in Chad for a few hours and would meet Deby, whose forces held off a rebel attack on the presidential palace at the weekend.

Deby's government says it defeated the force made up of three main rebel groups, which had stormed into the capital on Saturday aboard armed pickup trucks after making a lightning advance from the eastern border with Sudan's Darfur region.

But the rebels, who denounce the president -- himself a former insurgent -- as corrupt and dictatorial, said their withdrawal late on Sunday was tactical and that they would regroup and strike again.

N'Djamena was reported to be calm on Wednesday.

French warplanes have been flying reconnaissance missions over rebel positions and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Wednesday that a rebel force of between 100 and 200 vehicles was still somewhere east of the capital.

Tens of thousands of N'Djamena residents fled south into Cameroon after the weekend fighting, but hundreds started returning on Wednesday after the Chadian government made TV and radio broadcasts saying it was safe to come back.

We've chased out the mercenaries of (Sudanese President) Omar Hassan al-Bashir ... Today we totally control N'Djamena, Deby's current military high commander, Gen. Mahamat Ali Abdallah Nassour, said in the broadcasts.