Chad rebels say they are ready for ceasefire and talks

France backs military council headed by fallen president’s son

epa09155824 French President Emmanuel Macron (CR) arrives with the son of the late Chadian president Idriss Deby, Mahamat Idriss Deby (CL) to attend the state funeral for the late Chadian president Idriss Deby in N'Djamena, Chad, 23 April 2021. Chad's President Idriss Deby died of injuries suffered in clashes with rebels in the country's north, an army spokesperson announced on state television on 20 April 2021. Deby had been in power since 1990 and was re-elected for a sixth term in the 11 April 2021 elections.  EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON / POOL
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Rebels in northern Chad are ready to observe a ceasefire and to discuss a political settlement after the battlefield death of President Idriss Deby last week, a rebel spokesman said on Sunday.

The rebels, known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (Fact), crossed the northern border from Libya on April 11 calling for an end to Deby's 30-year rule. They advanced to within 200 kilometres to 300km of the capital, N'Djamena, before being pushed back by the army.

Deby was killed on Monday while visiting troops at the front, just after he won an election. His death shocked the Central African country, which has long been a Western ally against extremist militants.

The air force has since bombarded rebel positions, the military and rebels said. The military said on Saturday it had "annihilated" the rebels.

"Fact is ready to observe a ceasefire for a political settlement that respects the independence and sovereignty of Chad and does not endorse a coup d'etat," Fact spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol told Reuters.

A military council headed by Deby's son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, seized power after Deby's death. The rebel group said it would not stand a "monarchy" and opposition politicians called it a coup.

Opposition politicians and civil society have called for peaceful protests and a national dialogue to end the crisis.

France, the former colonial power, has given its backing to the military council that intends to rule Chad for a transition period following the president’s death.

“France will never let anyone, neither today nor tomorrow, threaten the stability and integrity of Chad,” French President Emmanuel Macron said while attending Deby’s funeral in N’Djamena on Friday.

The military council, he said, has a role to play to promote “stability, inclusion, dialogue and a democratic transition”.

Chad army officers carry the coffin of late Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno during the state funeral in N'Djamena on April 23, 2021. Chad's President Idriss Deby died on April 20, 2021 from wounds sustained in a battle with rebels in the country's north, an army spokesperson announced on state television. Deby had been in power since 1990 and was re-elected for a sixth term in the April 11, 2021 elections. / AFP / Issouf SANOGO
Chad's President Idriss Deby died from wounds sustained in a battle with rebels in the country's north. AFP

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also defended the military takeover in an interview with Paris-based broadcaster France 2, saying it was necessary to maintain stability in Chad and the region, while calling for a quick transition.

France is a key player in the battle against extremist insurgencies in West Africa. It has contributed about 5,100 troops to a counter-terrorism force that is battling ISIS and Al Qaeda-linked militants in West Africa’s Sahel region.

France’s Barkhane mission, which backs up a regional force known as the G5 Sahel – made up of troops from Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso – are headquartered in N’Djamena.

Deby positioned himself and his battle-hardened army as key players in the maintenance of peace and security in the area. That role helped shield him from international criticism even as his regime became increasingly authoritarian. It even earned him protection from France.

The African Union, meanwhile, said it was deeply concerned by the military takeover.

The situation in the country threatens “peace, security and stability” not only in Chad, but also the region, as well as the continent, the African Union said in a statement on its website.

The military council said it will run the country for 18 months before restoring civilian rule. The nation’s constitution states that a successor should be elected within 90 days.