N’Djamena – An exiled rebel leader returned to Chad on Thursday, according to an AFP journalist, days before the start of landmark peace talks aimed at paving the way for democratic elections after 18 months of military rule.
Timan Erdimi, the head of the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), has been living in exile in Qatar for at least a decade, after his rebel group attempted to overthrow former Chadian president Idriss Deby Itno, first in 2008 and again in 2019.
He arrived at N’Djamena International Airport early Thursday, where around 50 relatives and supporters were waiting for him, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
The “inclusive national dialogue” in N’Djamena is due to open Saturday and last three weeks.
It is the brainchild of junta chief General Mahamat Idriss Deby and brings together 1,400 delegates from the military government, civil society, opposition parties, trade unions and rebel groups.
Deby has hailed it as a chance for reconciliation in the fractured country, paving the way to the return of civilian rule.
ALSO READ | Chad rebels return to peace talks
The junta leader took power last year after his father, the former president Itno who ruled for 30 years, was killed during a military operation against rebels.
The national dialogue kicking off Saturday should have started in February but was repeatedly delayed as Chad’s myriad rebel groups, meeting in Qatar, squabbled over whether to attend.
In the end, after months of talks, around 40 groups on August 8 signed up to a deal, entailing a ceasefire and guarantee of safe passage.
The UFR is one of 40 rebel groups that signed the deal with the junta to move ahead with the talks.
It first attempted to overthrow the government in 2008, then again in 2019, when they sent a column of fighters in 50 pick-up trucks from Libya via Sudan.
They were beaten back by French air strikes, requested by Deby, a major ally in France’s anti-jihadist campaign in the Sahel.