Home | News    Thursday 20 May 2004

Chad president says botched mutiny aimed to kill him

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Idriss Deby

NDJAMENA, May 19 (AFP) — Chadian President Idriss Deby said that army soldiers who led a failed rebellion earlier this week had aimed to assassinate him, but affirmed in a speech broadcast nationwide that authorities had restored order in the central African state.

Deby dismissed as "fanatical and manipulated" the group of soldiers who led an insurrection overnight Sunday.

The uprising, started at their barracks in the capital Ndjamena, was quickly subdued without violence. A close adviser to Deby said Monday that some soldiers had been arrested, and the government said the others had surrendered on Tuesday.

"On the night of May 16-17, a group of fanatical and manipulated officers tried to impede the operations of the republic. Their secret objective was the assassination of the president of the republic," Deby said in his broadcast.

"I would like to reassure the national and international community that the situation is totally and entirely under control", he said.

"We will use all legal means at our disposal to shed light on the circumstances behind this mutiny."

Interim Defence Minister Emmanuel Nadingar had late Tuesday announced the end of the short-lived mutiny, saying that negotiations with the last batch of rebel soldiers, holed up east of Ndjamena, had led to their surrender.

On Wednesday, Nadingar said the mutineers were handing back their weapons and that they would be heading back to their army units.

He said authorities had provided the mutineers with assurances on their key demand their personal security would be looked after in the wake of their rebellion.

The capital was calm Tuesday and Wednesday in the wake of the tumult, with no unusual military deployment on the streets after the soldiers posted at strategic spots on Monday returned to their barracks.

Nadinger described the botched uprising as the work of troops driven by "social and other needs".

Chad is one of the poorest countries in Africa, largely arid desert in the sub-Saharan north, but recently a beneficiary of the discovery of oil reserves in the south.

The arrested "ringleaders", Nadingar added, included senior officers of the Republican Guard unit, President Deby’s personal guard and the Chadian Nomad and National Guard.

While the government gave no names, Chadian and foreign observers noted that the leaders of these military units were all close to the head of state and held to be among Deby loyalists, thus raising the possibility that differences may have arisen within the inner circles of power in Chad.

Dissent has also been apparent within Deby’s own Zaghawa ethnic group, where some have expressed concern about the president’s handling of a cross-border crisis in Sudan’s Darfur province.

Many Zaghawa traditionally live in Darfur, which is in the grip of a rebellion against Sudan’s government dominated by Arabised Muslims. UN and aid officials, as well as refugees from Darfur, accuse Khartoum of backing local Arab militias in the massacre of black African locals.

About 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the crackdown against the rebels, while around one million have been driven from their homes, either displaced elsewhere in Sudan or trekking in the tens of thousands across the border into Chad.

Deby’s government has led mediation over the Darfur conflict, leading most recently to a fragile ceasefire, which each side accuses the other of breaching.

Initially, one Chadian army officer, who asked not to be named, described this week’s mutiny as having been triggered by measures Deby took to root our graft in the military.

After paying surprise visits to barracks in February, he "discovered that the army included non-existent troops whose pay was being pocketed by officers," the officer said.

Deby froze military pay and bonuses for two months and also had several military officers arrested, particularly among those in charge of pay for different wings of the Chadian National Army.

After a census, the authorities found that the army’s strength was about 19,000 men, instead of the 24,000 put forward in previous tallies.

In his speech, broadcast on national radio and television late Wednesday, Deby vowed the government would "pursue its operations to clean up the army finances".

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