A Darfur rebel leader was caught in a diplomatic stand-off in Chad’s main airport on Wednesday after authorities refused to let him enter the country on his way back to the battlefield.
Chadian officials stopped Khalil Ibrahim, the head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), when he flew into the Chadian capital, N’djamena from Libya They destroyed the passports of everyone in his party and ordered him to return to Tripoli, Ibrahim said.
The showdown is a major setback for the rebel group, which in the past had strong links with Chad’s leadership and regularly used the country as a base for its troops and a transit point for its officials.
“We are helpless — I have no ID now,” Ibrahim told Reuters by telephone from inside the plane at N’djamena Airport.
“They want to destroy our cause.”
He added he had been on the Libyan Afriqiyah airlines plane for 12 hours.
Ibrahim said there was a “conspiracy” between the Chadian government and international mediators to force JEM to return to Qatar-hosted floundering peace talks with Sudan’s government.
Chad’s Interior Minister, Ahmat Mahamat Bachir, said his country did not want JEM passing through: “We have re-established relations with Sudan so we cannot allow these undesirable people to pass through Chad,” he said.
Khartoum has long accused Chad of supporting and arming JEM during the seven-year conflict. But the oil-producing countries began a rapprochement at the end of 2009, and in February Chad brokered a ceasefire and an initial peace deal between JEM and Sudan’s government.
JEM is one of two rebel groups that took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the remote western region of Darfur and marginalising its population.
The movement is dominated by the Zaghawa tribe, who live in Darfur and neighbouring Chad. Ibrahim has close family links to Chadian President Idriss Déby.
Ibrahim said the airline refused to fly them back to Libya as they had no passports and that he refused to be flown to Qatar as proposed by the UN-African Union mediation of the faltering Darfur talks.
JEM this month suspended its participation in the talks, accusing Khartoum of bombing civilians, and the sides have clashed heavily in Darfur.
“They are trying to hijack me and force me to fly back to Doha,” Ibrahim said. “But we already signed two agreements and the government breached both those agreements and they are fighting us.”
No one was immediately available to comment from the mediation team.
Sudan has asked Interpol to circulate an arrest warrant for Ibrahim in connection with a JEM attack on Khartoum in 2008 but Chadian authorities have not said whether they would cooperate. — Reuters