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Chad rebels say will try to block May elections

Written by: Staff

DAKAR, Mar 16: Chadian rebels fighting to overthrow President Idriss Deby today said they planned to try to stop him holding May elections, a day after his beleaguered government announced it had foiled a coup plot.

Deby's 16-year rule is reeling from high-level military defections and coup threats just weeks before a May 3 presidential election which could extend his leadership over the arid, landlocked, oil-producing country.

''The whole Chadian people doesn't support this election. It's not going to be a democratic election,'' Yaya Dillo Djerou, leader of the Chadian rebel group SCUD, told Reuters by satellite telephone.

SCUD is part of a loose but fractious alliance of anti-Deby groups whose members have threatened to launch military offensives on N'Djamena from eastern Chad unless the president agrees to talks on democratic change.

''We have a plan to avoid the elections,'' Dillo said, but he declined to give more details, saying ''only God will tell'' if Deby would still be in power by the time of the May polls.

Chad's government yesterday announced it had thwarted an attempt by a group of army colonels and commanders to shoot down the president's plane as he returned from an African summit.

It identified high-level defectors from Deby's government, including close members of his own Zaghawa ethnic clan, as being the masterminds of the coup plot and said they were living in the United States, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Sudan.

The Chadian capital was calm today and the government said the May 3 elections will take place in which Deby's MPS party will contest the poll against a number of opposition parties.

''There is no reason to postpone them,'' Information Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor told Reuters.

But SCUD leader Dillo rejected the government's version of an alleged assassination plot, saying it was a pretext invented to conceal yet another major desertion by senior officers scrambling to join the armed opposition in the east.

''It wasn't a coup d'etat, they (the deserters) were trying to leave the capital with heavy arms and vehicles,'' Dillo said.

The insurgent challenge to Deby threatens to escalate the existing conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, where a war between local rebels and government forces and militias has already created a huge humanitarian crisis.


Deby, who seized power in Chad in a 1990 military revolt from the east and won elections in 1996 and 2001, confirmed earlier this month he would stand again in the May polls. A referendum last year approved the removal of a constitutional limit on the president serving more than two terms.

Analysts said the fixing of the election date appeared to be galvanising opposition activity against Deby and they predicted instability would increase in the run-up to the polls.

''Everything we've been picking up suggests an escalation is imminent, based on the signals from the rebels,'' Dave Mozersky, a senior analyst in Nairobi with the International Crisis Group think tank, told Reuters.

''In recent months, Deby has purged the army, reshuffled the leadership and established a new presidential guard in a series of moves that suggest desperation rather than authority,'' Philippe de Pontet, an analyst with the Eurasia Group, said in a written briefing note on the reported failed coup.

Deby's grip on power has been eroded by desertions by members of his Zaghawa ethnic group, some of whom blame him for not doing enough to help fellow Zaghawa kinsmen in Darfur who have been attacked by Sudanese government-backed Arab militias.

Analysts said that an outbreak of serious internal conflict in Chad could badly complicate international efforts to bring peace to Darfur, where thousands of helpless civilians have been killed in political and ethnic violence.

''A further extension of the Darfur battleground into Chad could undermine the political negotiations on Darfur,'' ICG's Mozersky said.


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