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CHAD: Deby signs new peace deal with northern rebels

OUAGADOUGOU, 14 December 2003 (IRIN) - The government of Chad signed a fresh peace agreement on Sunday with the rebel Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT), which has been been fighting a low-level guerrilla war against President Idriss Deby in the desert north of the country since 1998.

The deal was signed in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, by Chad's Minister for Security and Immigration, Aduramane Moussa, and General Adoum Togoi Abbo, the chairman of the MDJT.

It provides for an immediate ceasefire, an amnesty for MDJT fighters and supporters, and the appointment of an undisclosed number of MDJT ministers in the Chadian government. The two sides also undertook to silence hostile propaganda against each other in the media.

The peace agreement said that within four days, the MDJT would be converted into a legal political party and within three months its fighters would be incorporated into the national army.

Little news has filtered out over the years about the MDJT rebellion in the mountainous north of Chad. However, the rebel movement claimed to have surrounded the northern town of Bardai and captured its airport in September. There was no independent verification of this claim, which was denied by the government.

Deby negotiated an earlier peace agreement with the MDJT in Libya in January 2002, but it broke down after hardliners in the rebel movement refused to support it.

The opportunity to negotiate a fresh peace deal arose after the founder of the MDJT, General Youssouf Togoimi, a former defence minister in Deby's government, was killed in September 2002 by a land mine explosion.

Togoi Abbo took over the leadership of the rebel movement, which draws most of its support from the Toubou people, who live in the Tibesti mountains of northern Chad. He discreetly reseumed contact with the Chadian government, using the government of Burkina Faso as a mediator. The agreement was signed after four days of secret talks in Ouagadougou.

A few minutes after the signing of the peace agreement, Togoi Abbo, accompanied by 10 MDJT advisers, left for the Chadian capital N'Djamena in the same plane as Moussa, the security minister.

"The MDJT decides on this solemn day to stop speaking with the language of weapons and to promote a peaceful way of expression, that is to say by political means," Togoi Abbo said in a speech at the signing ceremony.

"There is a time to make war and another to make peace. We are obliged to accept the hand of friendship extended by the other side now that objective and subjective conditions have been met," the rebel leader added, without spelling out what these conditions were.

Moussa said: "It is with great emotion and happiness that I am going back home with my brother Adoum. We had been together in the past and it is always painful to see him outside the country."

"We are going to start working so that our country gets out of misery and for that we need the participation of all the sons of Chad," the security minister added.

Togoi Abbo, a former Chadian ambassador to Libya, has been resident in Ouagadougou for the past three years. His rebel movement has close links with Libya, which once claimed the Aouzou Strip in northern Chad where the MDJT is active.

Burkina Faso's President Blaise Campaore also enjoys close ties with Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi and his government helped to broker the latest peace agreement. The document appoints the Burkinabe government as mediator to resolve any disputes that may arise over its implementation. Burkinabe Foreign Minister Youssouf Ouedraogo was present at the signing ceremony.

Ghaddafi annexed the Aouzou Strip in 1973, but Libyan forces were pushed out of the disputed territory and other parts of northern Chad by a French-backed Chadian counter-attack between 1986 and 1988.

The International Court of Justice finally awarded the Aouzou Strip to Chad in 1994 and all Libyan forces withdrew from the territory a few months later.

The peace deal with the MDJT should clear the way for Deby to deal with a number of other serious problems facing Chad, include the influx of an estimated 65,000 refugees from fighting in the Darfur province of neighbouring Sudan.

Landlocked Chad, which is one of the world's poorest countries, also hosts about 40,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) near its southern border. Diplomats said Deby's government helped the CAR's present head of state, General Francois Bozize, come to power in a coup in March this year.

Hopes for the future of Chad are pinned on the discovery of oil in the south of the country near Doba. The reserves have been developed by a consortium led by ExxonMobil which began pumping crude oil down a pipeline to the coast of Cameroon in July. Chad is expected to earn an about US$2.0 billion in revenues from the Doba oilfield over the next 25 years and oil companies are confident of finding a lot more oil in the country.

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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