DOHA: Peace talks between Chad’s military government and dozens of opposition groups have started in Qatar as a first step towards ending a rebellion and holding elections.
The landlocked African nation was thrown into turmoil by the killing of longtime leader Idriss Deby Itno in battle with rebels in the country’s north last April.
Some 44-armed rebel and opposition groups were invited to the Doha meeting – though some were missing at the opening on Sunday, which had already been delayed from February 27.
Chad’s Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and African Union Commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat told the opening of the conference that both sides would have to make concessions for the talks to succeed. But the process risks being protracted and complicated.
His son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a 38-year-old four-star general, took over after his death, heading a 15-member military council and vowing to hold free elections after a national dialogue that was scheduled to start on May 10.
Diplomats have said the national dialogue may have to be delayed because the “precursor” talks in Doha could take weeks.
Under the younger Deby’s plan, the dialogue would be a prelude to agreeing on a new constitution and then holding elections.
Chad has had a turbulent history since gaining independence from France in 1960, and tens of thousands have died in various conflicts between its large, shifting constellation of armed opposition groups.
As a condition for the Doha talks, Chadian rebels called for a general amnesty, the release of “prisoners of war”, and the return of confiscated assets.
The military government says it has released hundreds of prisoners and given amnesty to several prominent leaders. However, it has so far excluded the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) – the Libya-based group that launched the offensive in which Idriss Deby Itno was killed.
FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali was not at the talks.
“The situation in Chad is very serious, we have to deliver this,” the African Union’s Mahamat said in his address to the government and armed groups.
Padacke, Chad’s prime minister, said that “peace requires more courage and maturity than war” and that the talks’ success would help stabilise the whole Sahel region where armed groups have staged regular attacks.
“Real courage does not mean brandishing your weapon but to have the courage to lay it down”, he said.
Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush also said the peace process would be crucial to improving stability and helping “fight terrorism” in the Sahel.
The elder Deby himself came to power at the head of a rebel force in 1990. In 2008 and again in 2019, columns of fighters came close to forcing him out, but each time were thwarted by French military power.