One of Chad’s most prominent rebel leaders, Timan Erdimi, has returned to the country after 17 years in exile, days ahead of the start of national talks aimed at paving the way for elections after the military seized power last year.
Erdimi, 67, head of the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), left Chad in 2005 and he had been living in exile in Qatar for at least a decade. His armed group had attempted to overthrow his uncle, Chad’s former president Idriss Deby, first in 2008 and again in 2019.
Failing to topple Deby in 2008, his UFR continued to threaten the government and in 2019 UFR-linked fighters advanced from Libya deep into Chadian territory before their convoy was destroyed by French fighter jets.
“I am very happy to return home after so many years in exile,” Erdimi said after his arrival at the capital’s N’Djamena International Airport early on Thursday.
“I hope that everything will go well to achieve peace, reconciliation and serenity in the country,” he told reporters, adding he hoped to transform the UFR into a political party.
A second rebel leader Mahamat Nouri, head of the Union for Democracy and Development (UFDD), was reported landing shortly after Erdimi.
“I am absolutely ready for dialogue,” Nouri was quoted as saying by local media.
Hundreds gathered to welcome the rebel chief, who was wearing a white robe and turban.
Nouri was defence minister under the former president before he defected. He was detained in France in 2019 on suspicion of crimes against humanity over recruiting child soldiers in Chad and Sudan. He was released the following year on health grounds.
Inclusive national dialogue
Chad’s longtime president Deby was killed on the battlefield while visiting front-line troops in April last year and his son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, was installed by the military as interim president of Chad.
The younger Deby, 38, has initiated talks with various rebel groups who have long challenged his father’s regime.
At least 40 rebel and opposition factions signed a peace pact with Chad’s transitional authorities last week, agreeing to talks that are scheduled to begin on Saturday.
However, the most powerful rebel group, the Libya-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which threatened to march on N’Djamena last year, has refused to participate in talks, saying negotiators did not listen to its demands.