Exiled rebel leader returns to Chad ahead of 'national dialogue'

Exiled rebel leader returns to Chad ahead of 'national dialogue'

Rebel leader Timan Erdimi, pictured on his return from exile on Thursday
Rebel leader Timan Erdimi, pictured on his return from exile on Thursday. Photo: AURELIE BAZZARA-KIBANGULA / AFP
Source: AFP

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

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

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

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, sporting a small white beard and dressed in a traditional gown and white hat.

Erdimi will be a key participant at an "inclusive national dialogue" opening in N'Djamena on Saturday,

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The brainchild of junta chief General Mahamat Idriss Deby, the forum will bring together 1,400 delegates from the military government, civil society, opposition parties, trade unions and rebel groups.

Deby has hailed it as a chance for reconciliation in the fractured country, opening the way to "free and democratic" elections within 18 months of the military takeover.

He took power in April last year at the age of just 37 after his father, who ruled for 30 years, was killed during a military operation against rebels.

The "dialogue" should have started in February but was repeatedly delayed as Chad's myriad rebel groups, meeting in Qatar, squabbled over whether to attend.

In the end, around 40 groups on August 8 signed up to a deal, entailing a ceasefire and guarantee of safe passage.

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Chad
Chad. Photo: Patricio ARANA / AFP
Source: AFP

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

It first attempted to overthrow the government in 2008, then again in 2019, when the group sent a column of fighters in dozens of pick-up trucks from Libya via Sudan.

They were beaten back with help from France, which saw Deby as a major ally in the French anti-jihadist campaign in the Sahel.

The elder Deby, like his nephew Erdimi, hailed from the Zaghawa ethnic group. His successor, the younger Deby, is Erdimi's cousin.

Time pressure

Saleh Kebzabo, a vice president of the forum's organising committee and one-time opponent of the older Deby, said the upcoming talks would facilitate a new constitution which would then be put to a referendum.

But observers say the conference faces major challenges, starting with the pressure of time.

Junta leader General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno says the upcoming talks open the way to restoring civilian rule
Junta leader General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno says the upcoming talks open the way to restoring civilian rule. Photo: Brahim ADJI / Tchad Presidential Palace/AFP/File
Source: AFP

"The timetable for the dialogue, which is supposed to last 21 days, isn't credible," said Enrica Picco of the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.

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The junta's 18-month deadline runs out in October, leaving scant time for organising a referendum and then elections in this vast, arid country.

Deby, speaking soon after taking power, also spoke of the option of extending the transition by another 18 months if need be.

"It's not possible to reach an agreement in such a short time," Picco said, adding that an extension of the transition was likely.

Absent rebels

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

The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), some of whose captured fighters are seen here in N'Djamena last year, is boycotting Saturday's forum
The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), some of whose captured fighters are seen here in N'Djamena last year, is boycotting Saturday's forum. Photo: Djimet WICHE / AFP
Source: AFP

Absentees include the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which triggered the offensive in the northeast last year that ended in the elder Deby's death. It says the forum is "skewed in advance."

Among political groups, Wakit Tamma, a large coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups, is also snubbing the talks.

"We estimate that 80 percent of (those attending) are close to the junta," said Succes Masra, head of The Transformers party, which is part of the alliance.

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It accuses the junta of violating human rights and using the "dialogue" as a springboard for Deby's election candidacy, something that he has previously ruled out.

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Source: AFP

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