With the midday sun high over Chad’s capital N’Djamena, Alhadj Barh embraced his wife for the first time in more than two years. It marked a new start for a man who, until earlier that day, had been in jail for fighting in a rebel army accused of killing the president.
In an apparent peace gesture, Chad’s interim president Mahamat Idriss Deby in March pardoned 380 jailed members of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a rebel group accused of killing his father – longtime ruler Idriss Deby – in 2021.
Barh was among a group of pardoned detainees to be released near the capital in early April.
Seated at home beside his wife and four daughters, Barh said he was eager to help facilitate peace if the government pursued an inclusive approach.
“We are not bullies,” he said. “If the situation changes, I will actively contribute to national reconciliation.”
The military government led by the younger Deby has launched peace talks with various rebel groups who had long challenged his father’s regime, but FACT has not taken part, insisting the transitional authorities first free its members.
While hundreds have been pardoned, most of the group’s senior leadership, including leader Mahamat Mahadi Ali, remain in custody.
Another newly released detainee, former maths teacher and FACT member Ouckonga Guelmine Kemnda, said calls for unity would ring hollow without their release.
“The government says it is open to dialogue and yet the person with whom it must dialogue is condemned,” the 46-year-old said, sitting among his extended family.
“When we want to talk to someone, we have to stay open,” he added.
The transitional authorities have not commented on the detainees’ statements or the outlook for the continuing peace negotiations. The government is set to stay in office at least through elections slated for October 2024.
In August 2022, government representatives signed an agreement began engaging of negotiations in what was called a “pre-dialogue” with hundreds of rebels and civil society society, with the Qatari government as mediator.