Doha, Qatar – Pressure is piling on the Chadian government to delay the date of a national dialogue set to start in two weeks as rebel groups and representatives of the country’s transitional council are yet to reach an amnesty agreement seen as a crucial condition for the success of the talks.
Chad has been in turmoil since longtime ruler Idriss Deby was killed on the battlefield a year ago while fighting with his soldiers against rebels from the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) – one of the last remaining rebel groups with fighters on the ground.
The military then swiftly took control, dissolved parliament, paused the constitution and placed the late president’s son Mahamat Deby, also known as Kaka, at the helm of a Transitional Military Council (TMC).
The 37-year-old de facto leader promised a national reconciliation dialogue with a range of political stakeholders in Chad, including the rebels, to discuss and set up a legal framework to hold elections within two years.
Rebel groups agreed to participate but only if certain conditions were met before the talks. This led to a so-called “pre-dialogue” which is taking place in the Qatari capital, Doha, where about 50 rebel groups presented their demands to a delegation of 24 government representatives.
Among the requests, the groups asked for guaranteed safety if they return to the country and for the release of prisoners of war. The government is keen to hand amnesty to those accused of acts of rebellion and to free all members of the rebel groups who will sign amnesty agreements, according to a document seen by Al Jazeera.
But there is disagreement concerning other demands of the rebels, such as banning members of the TMC from running in the next elections, army reforms and a constitutional revision.
Government representatives have made it clear that these issues should be scrutinised at the national dialogue in the capital N’Djamena, rather than at the Doha talks.
Growing calls for a delay in dialogue
But as the pre-talks are moving at a snail’s pace, an increasing number of critics are urging the government to delay the date of the dialogue – currently set for May 10.
They fear there is not enough time for the rebels to secure amnesty from the TMC and return to the country safely. And a national dialogue without the rebel groups would be useless, they say.
These calls intensified after Deby, head of the TMC, confirmed in a speech last week that the government will stick to its calendar.
Foreign minister Mahamat Zene has said that if no amnesty deal was signed before the date, the national dialogue and the pre-talks could have continued parallel to one another.
The proposal was not warmly welcomed. The groups in Doha released a joint statement accusing the government of rushing the process and preventing their participation in the dialogue, stressing that the TMC will “carry full responsibility for any consequences”.
In N’Djamena, the Center of Studies for the Development and Prevention of Extremism (CEDPE), a civil society group invited to help organise the dialogue said it would withdraw its support if Chadian authorities refuse to postpone the date until an agreement with the rebels is in place.
A government-affiliated party, the National Union for Democracy and Renewal (UNDR), made a less direct appeal, saying that negotiations have “to take the necessary time to reach an agreement at all costs”.
A change would be the second postponement; the talks were originally planned for mid-February, but then moved over issues related to the organisation of the Doha meeting.
There is also increasing pressure on the mediator, Qatar.
A source familiar with the talks said the host country wants to see an effective, rebels-inclusive national dialogue. The source said the absence of the rebels would indirectly undermine Qatar’s efforts and suggested that a delay was discussed during a phone call on Friday between Deby and Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
“There will be some flexibility,” the source added.
Back in the Chadian capital, meanwhile, preparations are under way. Some observers have suggested that even in the event of a deal with the rebels, the organisation of the dialogue is too far behind. But former health minister Ahmed Dijida Mahamat, president of the Union party and member of CODNI – the committee in charge of arranging the dialogue – said “everything is on track”.
After months of consultations with civil society groups, academics, members of the Chadian diaspora as well as members of Chad’s 23 provinces and traditional local leaders, about 1,600 people across these groups are expected to participate. Plans are in motion to set the agenda and a system to guarantee equal representation to all participants in the dialogue, Dijida said.
“There are not only the rebels, but all the other components of Chad’s society,” Dijida said, adding that an agreement in Doha can be found, if there is the will.