DOHA: Chad’s military leader arrived in Qatar on Friday as his negotiators sought last-minute changes to a landmark deal with opposition rebels that could delay signing the accord, diplomats said.
Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, who seized power in the Central African nation after his father was killed battling rebels last year, is in Qatar to formally agree an accord to launch a national peace dialogue in Ndjamena on August 20.
The dialogue would aim to hold the country’s most important elections since its independence in 1960.
And the process is being closely watched as Chad is seen as key to international efforts to counter jihadist insurgents in several Central and West African countries.
Qatar, which has hosted nearly six months of mediation, had hoped the accord would be signed on Monday. But diplomats said late obstacles had created doubts.
“There are some recent barriers to overcome before the signing of the peace agreement,” said a diplomatic source monitoring the talks.
“There is a branch within the Chadian government that does not fully support the direction of the negotiations and is trying to obstruct the signing of the peace agreement in its current form,” said a second diplomatic source.
“The Chadian government delegation, headed by the foreign minister, made a last-minute demand to amend the wording of the agreement after it had been accepted by all parties. This may cause delays to the signing of the agreement.”
Deby is scheduled to hold talks with Qatari officials on Saturday amid efforts to keep the signing on track.
With Qatar having to mediate between dozens of disparate opposition groups and the military government, the start of the national dialogue has been delayed several times since February amid frayed negotiations.
The main armed opposition Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) has still not announced whether it will sign the accord.
FACT fighters were among rebels battling the country’s long-time president Idriss Deby Itno when he was killed in April last yar.
His son seized power but promised to hold elections within 18 months. The military government has given itself the power to extend the transition but it faces pressure from France, the European Union and African Union to stick to the October deadline for elections.
“Even without FACT, there is a majority in favor of starting the talks in N’Djamena on August 20,” said a negotiator for one group.
Under the provisional accord, the military council and rebel groups are to agree a cease-fire while authorities will guarantee security for rebel leaders who attend the national dialogue.
The government said Thursday that more than 1,300 representatives of rebel groups, civil society, trade unions and government officials will attend the talks in the Chadian capital.