N’Djamena – Chad’s ruling junta has unveiled a list of participants for a much-touted forum of national reconciliation, but the opposition blasted the scheme as “skewed in advance”.
The so-called national inclusive dialogue is the brainchild of General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, in power since his father, veteran president Idriss Deby Itno, was killed in an operation against rebels in April last year.
The forum is to debate the junta’s plans to stage elections within an 18-month timeframe – the key stage for restoring civilian rule.
But it has twice been delayed because of problems, and the latest date for starting it is August 20.
According to a decree signed Thursday by junta-appointed Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke, 1,360 people will attend the gathering.
They include representatives of civil society, trade unions and government – as well as several dozen representatives of rebel groups.
Armed rebels are a major factor in volatile Chad, traditionally posing a threat to power from havens in the north of the country.
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Discord among them has been a major stumbling block for launching the “dialogue”.
The forum’s structure “is representative”, Communications Minister and government spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah told AFP.
“We have respected a balance between the various components of society,” he said, adding: “Nobody forced us to do this dialogue.”
But opposition leader Succes Masra, head of The Transformers party, blasted the debate as “skewed in advance”.
“We estimate that 80 percent of the participants are people from the old system, from the government,” he said.
“The authorities still have two weeks to revise things and build a really inclusive dialogue.”
Chad is among four countries in western Africa that have undergone military takeovers within the past two years.
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But unlike Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, Chad has faced little pressure from the international community over its plans to return to civilian rule.
Chad is seen as a linchpin in western-led efforts to shore up the Sahel in the face of a bloody jihadist insurgency.
France, the European Union and the African Union have asked the junta not to extend the 18-month deadline.
But the 18 months expire in October, which leaves little time for holding the planned presidential and legislative elections.
The dialogue was initially scheduled to start on February 15, but was postponed to May 10 and then again to August 20.
The biggest hitch has been discord among the dozens of rebel groups who have been in long-running talks with the government in Doha, Qatar.
On the table is a government plan for a ceasefire and guarantees of security for rebel leaders who attend the forum.