CHAD: Government continues to negotiate with army mutineers
Ndjamena, 18 May 2004 (IRIN) - The Chadian government was still negotiating on Tuesday with rebel army units that attempted to stage an uprising at the weekend, but the motivation for the uprising against President Idriss Deby remained unclear.
"The negotiations with the mutineers are well advanced, and we expect a positive outcome by tonight", Emmanuel Nadingar, the acting Minister of Defence told IRIN on Tuesday afternoon.
Chadian officials said on Monday that the rebellion had been led by units of the elite and well armed Republican Guard and elements of the presidential guard and the highly mobile National and Nomadic Guard. They said then that around 80 military personnel linked to the mutiny had been intercepted and surrounded.
However, following an emergency cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the government announced that a residual group of mutineers had taken refuge in the Gassi garrison on the eastern outskirts of the capital N’djamena and that negotiations with them were still under way.
Nadingar told IRIN that there were only about 100 soldiers holed up in the barracks, but other sources in N'djamena said they believed that more than 300 heavily armed rebel troops were making a stand there.
Military sources said General Sébi Aguid, who was military chief of staff under former president Hissene Habre, was leading the negotiations with the mutineers as President Deby's special envoy.
The mutineers, whose uprising appears to have been nipped in the bud by loyalist troops who took up defensive positions in the city centre of N'djamena on Sunday, have not so far made public their demands.
However diplomats and other well informed analysts of the political scene in Chad said they could be seeking anything from Deby's removal from power to the payment of unpaid salaries.
“The mutineers acknowledge their wrong-doing but fear for their security”, Nadingar told IRIN. He denied suggestions that they were seeking to overthrow Deby, a former army officer who has ruled this poor landlocked country with an iron hand since he came to power in a civil war in 1990.
Nadingar and other officials attributed the mutiny to the two-month suspension of salary payments following the government’s attempt to weed out phantom soldiers from the army payroll as part of a crackdown on corruption in the armed forces.
“The measures taken by the government to control army figures and reajust them did not please everyone," Nadingar said, adding that the wages had since been paid and the situation rectified.
However, diplomats said the mutiny could be the latest sign of growing friction between Deby and rival factions of his Zagawa ethnic group which dominates government and armed forces in Chad.
They said Zagawa officials close to Deby had recently criticised the president in private for failing to support the rebels in Sudan's western Darfur region - many of whom are also Zagawa.
Deby has been trying to act as mediator between Khartoum and the Darfur rebels and hosted peace talks between them in December and again in April. More than 120,000 refugees from the conflict in Darfur have spilled over the border to seek shelter in Chad.
Diplomats said the timing of the army mutiny could be linked to a crucial parliamentary vote on government proposals to ammend the constitution in order to allow Deby to stand for a third five-year term in 2006. Discussion of the ammendment was due to start on Wednesday.
Chadian opposition activists fear that an additional constutional ammendment to create the post of vice-president is aimed at installing Deby's eldest son as his father's deputy and eventual successor.
The streets of N'djamena remained calm on Tuesday though 150 soldiers of the Republican Guard maintained a series of road blocks on roads leading out of the city in the direction of Gassi barracks.