Protests mount over Chad arrests

Residents of Chad’s curfew-bound capital, Ndjamena, did their best on Friday to resume normal life amid the ruins of a rebel attack and mounting protests over arbitrary arrests and alleged summary executions.

The Chadian army’s operational commander, General Mahamat Ali Abdallah, said the rebels who were driven back from Ndjamena after fierce weekend fighting had withdrawn to Mongo, 400km east of the city.

“We will continue to pursue them,” he added.

Military sources said on Thursday that more than 200 pick-up trucks had been sighted in Mongo, the main town in central Chad’s Guera region, after survivors of the rebel assault linked up with reinforcements who drove in from across Sudan’s western border.

President Idriss Déby Itno’s government imposed a 6.30pm to 6am curfew on Ndjamena and six provinces on Thursday and has started coming under fire for arbitrarily rounding up politicians in the capital.

Security forces have detained former head of state Lol Mahamat Choua, who is head of a committee to follow up an accord reached among political parties last August to postpone elections until 2009, with interim power-sharing, sources close to the case confirmed.

Also arrested are Mahahat Saleh Ibni Oumar, leader of the main opposition coalition, and a radical opposition member, Ngarleji Yorongar, the sources said. The detentions sparked protests from Amnesty International.

The rights watchdog group said in a statement on Thursday that its deputy programme director for Africa, Tawanda Hondara, also had information that Chadian soldiers executed at least three unidentified civilians.

“We are extremely concerned that the Chadian authorities are about to start a major witch-hunt against people perceived as belonging to the armed opposition groups,” Hondora said.

On Friday morning, the French embassy withdrew advice that nationals from the former colonial power should stick together under military guard, but warned them to abide by the overnight curfew and remain within city limits.

Before the clashes, about 1 500 French people lived in Chad, 85% of them in Ndjamena, but France’s military has airlifted 1 200 foreigners out of the capital since Saturday night. Most of them were French.

About 200 other people chose to remain under the protection of French troops, whose permanent presence in the large, mainly arid Central African country was slightly boosted to 1 450 men in the face of the rebellion.

France provides Déby with logistical and intelligence support and Defence Minister Herve Morin visited Ndjamena for talks on Wednesday, but Paris has denied direct military intervention.

The rebels began their advance into Chad on January 28, the day the European Union gave the green light for the full deployment by the end of May of a Eufor Chad-CAR peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).

The force delayed further deployment when the Chad clashes began, but Friday a Eufor spokesperson said it could resume “from Tuesday” if the airport in Ndjamena can be reopened.

This force of 3 700 troops from 14 nations, but mostly French, has a United Nations Security Council mandate to protect Sudanese refugees in Chad and the CAR, as well as people displaced by internal strife.

Amnesty International called on France “to use its influence to encourage the Chadian authorities” to probe and prevent arrests and summary executions, and bring those responsible to justice.

A number of French charities, including Survie and Secours Catholique, have gone further, jointly urging Paris “to work for the setting up of a national dialogue [in Chad] and stop unconditionally supporting the regime”. — AFP

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