CHAD: Army mutiny quelled in N'djamena
Chad - gunfire before dawn in N'djamena
NDJAMENA, 17 May 2004 (IRIN) - Forces loyal to President Idriss Deby appear to have quelled an army mutiny in Chad which led to a shortlived outbreak of intense gunfire in the capital N'djamena in the early hours of Monday morning.
Information Minister Moktar Wawadajab said on state radio on Monday that an uprising had been quelled by loyalist forces, but he gave no details.
The security crisis began when loyalist troops in armoured vehicles rolled into N'djamena from nearby garrisons on Sunday afternoon and took up positions around the television and radio stations. Other loyalist troops set up road blocks throughout the capital and began carrying out thorough searches of cars and even donkey carts and trailers drawn by camels.
Residents of N'djamena said the children of President Deby and senior members of his entourage were kept away from school on Monday and many foreigners in the city stayed at home after being warned by diplomatic missions of possible trouble.
By Monday afternoon, the armoured vehicles and most road blocks had been removed from the city centre, but there were still fewer people in the streets than normal and the atmosphere remained tense.
Police sources told IRIN that a disgruntled army colonel, Bechir Haggar, had tried to launch a rebellion, but while he had been arrested, many of his supporters had escaped and were still at large.
Haggar is from the same Zagawa ethnic group as Deby, but he spent several years in exile as a result of earlier differences with the president.
Reuters and the Agence France Presse both quoted sources close to the presidency and diplomatic sources in N'djamena as saying that the rebellion had been contained and that a rebel force of about 80 men had been intercepted and surrounded.
Reuters quoted a source close to the presidency as saying the uprising had been triggered by the suspension of salary payments to soldiers as the government attempted to weed out phantom soldiers from the army payroll as part of a crackdown on corruption in the armed forces.
Residents noted that the army uprising took place just three days before a planned opposition rally in N'djamena to protest against government plans to change the constitution in order to allow Deby to run for a third term as president in 2006.
The former army officerl has ruled this poor landlocked country since coming to power in a civil war in 1990. Following the introduction of a new constitution which legalised opposition parties, he won presidential elections in 1995 and again in 2001
The disruption of normal life in N'djamena is likely to hamper still further the work of relief agencies battling to provide food, water and shelter for more the 120,000 refugees from neighbouring Sudan.
The refugees have flooded into eastern Chad over the past year to escape a civil war in Sudan's western Darfur region, but the remote region will become cut off next month when the rainy season begins making Chad's dirt roads unpassable.