Chadian troops back down after threat to storm palace



Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 24 April 1992

Chad’s government became the latest reformist African regime to face military opposition to democratisation this week when soldiers surrounded the presidential palace in protest at attempts to demilitarise the lawless capital.

Hundreds of troops, mostly from the Zaghawa tribe of President Idriss Deby, encircled the palace in light tanks and threatened to storm it. By yesterday, President Deby had reached agreement on the soldiers’ withdrawal after talks with the transport minister, Abbas Koti, who negotiated on their behalf.

The army action followed growing pressure on President Deby to cut the size of the army by half. Unpaid soldiers have led a crime spree in the capital N’djamena over the past two months.

Colonel Deby, who seized power after he invaded Chad in 1990 and overthrew President Hissene Habre, has elevated many Zaghawa to key ministerial positions. The Zaghawa dominated his forces at the time of the invasion. But since then, they have felt sidelined by the president, who has committed himself to introducing multi-party democracy this year. Fifteen political parties have now been established in the run-up to a national political conference scheduled for May.

The democratic process has faced a series of violent upsets. Up to 40 members of the pro-Habré Movement for Democracy and Development, who launched a military incursion into Chad from Nigeria in December, are  believed to  have been executed after extradition to Chad from Nigeria.

Former members of Mr Habré’s government this week established the newest political party, the Convention of Chadian Social Democrats. The involvement of former ministers’ in the new process marks a strong break with Mr Habré, who is in exile in Senegal.

But key to the divisions between the Deby and Habré camps is the collapse of the tribal alliance which kept Mr Habré in power. His reliance on southern Christians for support led to the discontent and eventual rise of the northern Muslims, and to Chad’s civil war in the mid-1980s.


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