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Two rebel leaders return to Chad ahead of ‘national dialogue’

#rebel #leaders #return #Chad #ahead #national #dialogue

Two exiled rebel leaders returned to Chad on Thursday, two days before the start of landmark talks aimed at paving the way for elections after 18 months of military rule.

Timan Erdimi and Mahamat Nouri will be the key participants in an “inclusive national dialogue” in N’Djamena on Saturday.

The forum is an idea of ​​junta chief General Mahamat Idriss Deby and will gather 1,400 delegates from the military government, civil society, opposition parties, trade unions and rebel groups.

Deby took power in April last year aged just 37 after his father, who ruled for 30 years, was killed in a military operation against rebels.

Erdimi, the head of the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), has lived in exile in Qatar for at least a decade.

His armed group first tried in 2008 and again in 2019 to overthrow his uncle, former President Idriss Deby Itno.

He arrived at N’Djamena International Airport early Thursday, where around 50 relatives and supporters were waiting for him, an AFP journalist saw.

“I am very happy to return home after so many years in exile,” said Erdimi, 67, with a small white beard and a traditional robe and white hat.

Nouri, the leader of the Union for Democracy and Development (UFDD), landed shortly thereafter.

Hundreds gathered to greet the rebel leader, who wore a white robe and turban, the AFP journalist said.

Nouri was defense minister under the ex-president before he defected.

He was arrested in France in 2019 and charged with crimes against humanity over the recruitment of child soldiers in Chad and Sudan. He was released the following year for health reasons.

– ‘Will march by his own tune’ –

Deby has hailed Saturday’s talks as a chance for reconciliation in the broken country, paving the way for “free and democratic” elections within 18 months of the military taking power.

Topics should also be lasting peace and state reform.

The “dialogue” was supposed to start in February but was repeatedly postponed as Chad’s myriad rebel groups meeting in Qatar argued over whether to attend.

In the end, around 40 groups signed a deal on August 8 that included a ceasefire and guarantees of safe passage.

The UFR, one of the signatories, is estimated to have several hundred fighters stationed in southern Libya and northern Chad.

First it tried to overthrow the government in 2008, then again in 2019 when the group sent a column of militants in pick-up trucks from Libya through Sudan.

They were repulsed with the help of France.

The elder Deby, like his nephew Erdimi, was of the Zaghawa ethnic group. His successor, the younger Deby, is Erdimi’s cousin.

French researcher Jerome Tubiana said he didn’t think Erdimi would simply follow the government’s line.

“He will certainly march to his own tune,” he said.

“We can even expect Timan (Erdimi) to feed tensions that are currently significant in the Zaghawa community.”

The UFDD is based in Libya.

It was weakened after part of it split in 2016 to form another group – the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which sparked last year’s Northeast offensive that ended in the death of elder Deby.

– Absent Rebels –

Saleh Kebzabo, vice president of the forum’s organizing committee and a former opponent of the elder Deby, said the forthcoming talks would facilitate a new constitution, which would then be put to a referendum.

But observers see the conference facing major challenges, starting with the time pressure.

“The timetable for the dialogue, which is to last 21 days, is not credible,” said Enrica Picco of the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.

The junta’s 18-month deadline expires in October, leaving little time to organize elections in this vast, arid country.

Shortly after taking power, Deby also spoke of the possibility of extending the transition by a further 18 months if necessary.

“It’s not possible to reach an agreement in such a short time,” Picco said, adding that an extension of the transition is likely.

Those boycotting the forum include two of the largest rebel groups and a major political alliance.

Among those absent are FACT and Wakit Tamma, a grand coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups. They say the talks were distorted beforehand.

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