Government troops and rebels clashed on Thursday in a region in western Chad where the late President Idriss Deby was killed earlier this month, military officials said, while prosecutors interviewed hundreds of protesters arrested in recent days.
The fighting in the Kanem desert region, near Chad’s border with Niger, is giving rise to Libyan – based rebels against forces loyal to a new military junta led by Deby’s son.
Deby was heavily criticized for authoritarianism and inequality and was considered a trusted ally by many Western countries, including the former colonial power France, especially in the fight against jihadism in the wider Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara.
>> Chad’s Idriss Deby, a longtime French ally in the troubled Sahel
“Fighting continues in Kanem – we will continue to fight, otherwise they will destabilize us,” junta spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna told AFP.
The so-called Military Transition Council (CMT) is led by 37-year-old Mahamat Idriss Deby.
The military said late Thursday that an MI24 helicopter had crashed due to a technical fault but did not specify whether there were any fatalities. However, the rebels said they had “destroyed” it.
Fighting for change and conformity is currently under way in Chad (FACT), mainly from the Goran ethnic group, about 300 kilometers north of the capital N’Djamena.
The rebels have threatened to march on N’Djamena, where a team from the African Union arrived on Thursday to assess the situation and examine ways to quickly return to democratic rule.
The team will stay in Chad for a week.
Security sources, without giving further details, said the Chadian army bombed FACT positions.
Deby, 68, died on April 19 from wounds inflicted on Libyan rebels, according to authorities.
Rebels had launched an offensive in the northern Tibesti region on April 11 as presidential elections unfolded.
A career soldier who took power in 1990 and exercised it ruthlessly for 30 years, Deby died the same day the election commission confirmed that he had won a landslide victory, authorities say.
Hundreds interviewed over protests
FACT is led by Mahamat Mahadi Ali, a veteran insurgent who previously lived in France.
The group promised to continue its offensive after a break for Deby’s funeral on April 23.
Experts believe that FACT has between 1,500 and 2,000 warriors.
On April 19, the Chadian army claimed to have killed 300 rebels and captured 246 others, who were taken to the capital N’Djamena to stand trial.
Military accidents have not been published.
The armed forces have recently sent reinforcements to Kanem, security forces said.
On Sunday, the Military Transitional Council announced that there would be no “mediation or negotiation” with the FACT and called on Niger to help capture the group’s leader.
CMT took over on April 20, immediately after Deby’s death was announced, when Parliament and the government were dissolved.
It has promised a transitional period of 18 months before “free and open” elections.
France, the former colonial power, initially supported the transitional military authorities before demanding the formation of a civilian unity government in the face of protests against the apparent dynastic transfer of power.
>> Challenges for France in navigating Chad’s transition after Deby
At least six people died on Tuesday in banned protests against the military council, according to authorities, while a local NGO reported nine deaths.
Prosecutors said on Thursday that they interviewed more than 700 people arrested during demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dozens of arrested protesters were taken in police vehicles to the capital’s Supreme Court on Thursday from various police stations around the city.
“A majority of them have already gone through and many have been released,” N’Djamena prosecutor Youssouf Tom told AFP.
On Monday, the military junta appointed Albert Pahimi Padacke as transitional minister. He called for a nationwide effort to speed up the return to civilian rule.
( Jowharwith AFP)