Chad junta refuses to negotiate with rebels after calls for 'ceasefire'

·3-min read

Chad's new ruling junta said Sunday it would not negotiate with rebels who launched an offensive in the north of the poor Sahel country two weeks ago and are accused of killing veteran ruler Idriss Deby Itno, after a rebel spokesman said they were ready to observe a ceasefire and to discuss a political settlement.

"The time is not for mediation, nor for negotiation with outlaws," Azem Bermandoa Agouna, spokesman of the military council said in a statement Sunday, a day after the rebels said they were prepared to observe a ceasefire. The military junta, which heads the country, is led by the late strongman's son Mahamat Idriss Deby.

Earlier on Sunday, a spokesman for the rebels, known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), stated once again they were ready to observe a ceasefire and to discuss a political settlement after the battlefield death of President Deby last week.

"FACT is ready to observe a ceasefire for a political settlement that respects the independence and sovereignty of Chad and does not endorse a coup d'etat," FACT spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol told Reuters early Sunday.

Junta asks Niger to help capture rebel leader

The FACT rebels came over the northern border from Libya on April 11 calling for an end to Deby's 30-year rule. They reached as close as 200-300 km from the capital N'Djamena, before the rebels were pushed back by the army.

Deby was killed on Monday while visiting troops at the front, just after he won the presidential election granting him his 6th term. His death shocked the Central African country, which has long been a Western ally against Islamist militants.

Chad's military junta on Sunday also asked neighbouring Niger for help in capturing the head of the FACT rebels, after claiming that Mahamat Mahadi Ali had fled Chad into Niger after heavy fighting. "Chad calls for the cooperation and solidarity of Niger... to facilitate the capture and bringing to justice of these war criminals", a spokesman said.

FACT rebels against a "monarchy"

The air force has since bombarded rebel positions, the military and rebels said. The military said on Saturday it had "annihilated" the rebels.

"We have affirmed our availability to observe a truce, a ceasefire... but this morning we were bombarded again", Mahamat Mahadi Ali, head of the FACT told AFP late Saturday.

Mahadi Ali warned that the ceasefire had to be observed by both sides. "We cannot respect the truce unilaterally. A truce must be made on both sides. We will not fold our arms and let ourselves be massacred," he said.

But a junta spokesman said the two sides were at war. "They are rebels, which is why we are bombing them. We are waging war, that's all," Agouna said.

A military council headed by Deby's son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, seized power after Deby's death, saying it intended to oversee an 18-month transition to elections. The rebels said it would not stand a "monarchy" and opposition politicians called it a coup.

Opposition leaders call for national dialogue

Opposition politicians and civil society have called for peaceful protests and a national dialogue to end the crisis.

On Friday, Chad staged a state funeral for Idriss Deby Itno, a linchpin in the fight against the Sahel's jihadist insurgency. France, the former colonial power in Chad, and regional allies threw their support behind Deby's son Mahamat.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in his tribute to the fallen president, said: "You lived as a soldier, you died as a soldier, weapons in your hands".

"France will never let anyone, either today or tomorrow, challenge Chad's stability and integrity," Macron pledged. But Macron also called on the newly-appointed military government to foster "stability, inclusion, dialogue, democratic transition".

(FRANCE with AFP & REUTERS)