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Chad president contacts rebel leader to resume peace talks

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March 21, 2008 (DAKKAR) — Chad President Idriss Deby’s government has contacted a Chadian rebel leader about resuming peace negotiations following an assault by the insurgents on the capital last month, the rebel chief said on Friday.

Timane Erdimi, head of the Rally of Forces for Change (RFC) which raided N’Djamena early in February with other rebel groups, told Reuters his envoy, Adoum Desallah, had met a government negotiator, Adoum Togoi, on March 13 at the eastern Chadian town of Guereda near the Sudanese border.

"The government asked us to meet them, so there was a meeting with the government delegation, and we gave them some preconditions," Erdimi, a nephew and former aide of Deby who joined the rebels three years ago, said in a phone interview.

Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir confirmed the contact with the RFC rebels. "Yes, talks are ongoing," he told Reuters in N’Djamena, without giving further details.

RFC leader Erdimi, who on Sunday threatened to attack Chad’s southern oil-producing Doba region unless France and the United States put pressure on Deby to start a dialogue with opponents, said he was awaiting a follow-up from the government.

"Maybe this could lead to negotiations, although it’s going to take some time, that’s for sure," he said.

Erdimi and other rebel chiefs have called on Deby to agree to a national dialogue with his foes and a transition period leading to fresh elections. Deby himself took power in a 1990 revolt and won elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006 but his foes say the polls were unfair and call him corrupt and dictatorial.

Four Chadian rebel groups, including Erdimi’s RFC, signed a Libyan-brokered peace accord with Deby’s government on Oct. 25. But the peace agreement collapsed a month later amid renewed heavy fighting in the east and mutual recriminations.

The RFC was also part of the rebel coalition force which attacked the Chadian capital N’Djamena in early February, besieging Deby in his palace. Deby has said 700 people were killed in the fighting, which ended when the rebels withdrew.

The rebels accused former colonial power France, which has troops and planes based in Chad, of backing Deby. Paris says its forces gave intelligence, medical and logistics support to the Chadian army but did not participate directly in combat.

Since last month’s attack on N’Djamena, the rebel coalition has split, with Erdimi refusing to join a relaunched rebel National Alliance under the leadership of Mahamat Nouri.

Chad has in the past often accused neighbour Sudan of backing and directing cross-border attacks by the rebels from Sudanese territory, a charge routinely denied by Khartoum, which says Deby has supported rebels in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Deby and his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan al-Bashir signed a non-aggression pact last week in Dakar, Senegal, the latest in a string of bilateral peace accords. The signing occurred only hours after Chad’s government accused Sudan of sending fresh columns of heavily-armed rebels over the frontier.

Sudan dismissed that new accusation as "nonsense".

(Reuters)

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