Chad holding secret talks with rebels

Chad’s foreign minister said the government is holding secret discussions with rebel groups who support peace and national reconciliation following a coup attempt earlier this month.

But Foreign Minister Ahmad Allam-Mi said on Tuesday that the government is not negotiating with any of the rebel leaders who attacked and destroyed much of the capital, Ndjamena, in a failed attempt to oust President Idriss Déby Itno that left hundreds of civilians dead.

The government supports the peace agreement signed last October with four Chadian rebel groups, he said, and is ready to resume dialogue on implementing its provisions calling for an immediate ceasefire, amnesty for civil and military personnel, and the release of all detainees from both sides.

”At the end of the day, there cannot be any genuine peace in Chad unless there is national cohesion,” Allam-Mi said. ”We are convinced of that. There cannot be a capacity for Chad to defend itself in the face of a foreign aggression unless there is a national cohesiveness.”

He said Déby Itno has offered ”an outstretched hand” to those who support the peace agreement, which was signed in Sirte, Libya.

”We are discussing with those groups who are challenging their leaders, but these are secret discussions,” Allam-Mi said. ”Even among those who have attacked Ndjamena recently, there are groups, there are those who challenge … who want to come in.”

The Chadian foreign minister spoke to reporters after meeting Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and holding an informal discussion with members of the UN Security Council. He said it covered the rebel attack, security issues, the disappearance of opposition political leaders, the opening of a political dialogue, and the normalisation of relations with Sudan.

Allam-Mi said he also came to New York to thank the council and the international community for condemning the coup attempt by rebels, who Chad insist came from Sudan. The Sudanese government denies that it sent fighters across the border from Darfur to try to overthrow Déby Itno.

Sudan and Chad regularly trade accusations that the other is supporting its rebel foes. Analysts say each country supports rebels hostile to the other.

Allam-Mi also urged China, Russia, Arab countries and other members of the international community to pressure Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to stop the ”massacres” in Darfur, accept a political solution to the Darfur crisis, and ”stop his destabilising efforts in Chad”.

”The anarchy of Darfur risks overspilling from Darfur to Chad and maybe all countries of the sub-region as well,” Allam-Mi warned.

Chad has been convulsed by civil wars and invasions since independence from France in 1960. The arid and impoverished central African nation is also one of the continent’s newest oil producers.

The latest political turmoil has delayed the deployment of a 3 700-strong European Union peacekeeping force designed to help protect Sudanese refugees in the east who have fled the fighting in Darfur and Chadians who have fled fighting at home.

Allam-Mi said between 10 000 and 15 000 Sudanese have arrived on the border in recent days following a week of Sudanese bombing in Darfur.

About 250 000 Sudanese refugees are already in camps in Chad, he said.

The minister urged the European force, EUFOR, which is expected to be operational in March, to get there quickly, and he expressed hope it can dissuade more Sudanese coming to Chad.

The Chadian government has come under international pressure to release political opponents detained after this month’s failed coup.

Allam-Mi said there was initially a long list of the missing, but now there are only three names. He said the sister and chauffeur of one of them, Ngarlegy Yorongar, told the press he is in Ndjamena, and the minister said he was told the opposition leader is probably going to speak on Wednesday to explain the circumstances of his arrest.

The government has ”no intention” to arrest any opposition figures ”unless we can prove they were accomplices in the military actions taken against the legitimate institutions of the country,” he said.

Former Chadian president Lol Mahamat Choua has been detained in a military prison while the judiciary investigates his ties with the rebels, Allam-Mi said. – Sapa-AP

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