Chad’s ruling military council has said it will not negotiate with rebels who launched an offensive in the north of the poor Sahel country two weeks ago and are accused of killing President Idriss Deby.
“The time is not for mediation, nor for negotiation with outlaws,” Azem Bermandoa Agouna, spokesman of the military council headed by the late strongman’s son Mahamat Idriss Deby, said on Sunday after the rebels said they were prepared to observe a ceasefire.
“They are rebels, which is why we are bombing them. We are waging war, that’s all,” Agouna said.
The military council claimed that Mahamat Mahadi Ali, the leader of the rebels known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), had fled into Niger and appealed to help from its neighbour to track him down.
“Chad calls for the cooperation and solidarity of Niger … to facilitate the capture and bringing to justice of these war criminals,” Agouna said.
The FACT rebels came over the northern border from Libya on April 11 calling for an end to Deby’s 30-year rule.
They came as close as 200-300km (125-185 miles) from the capital, N’Djamena, before being pushed back by the army.
Deby died after succumbing to wounds sustained while leading troops against the rebel offensive, just after he won an election.
His death shocked the Central African country, which has long been a Western and regional ally against armed groups they call “Islamist militants”.
The air force has since bombarded rebel positions, the military and rebels said. The military said on Saturday it had “annihilated” the rebels.
After Deby’s death, a military council headed by his son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, seized power and said it would oversee an 18-month transition to elections.
Opposition politicians called this a coup, and the rebels said they would not accept a “monarchy”.
“FACT is ready to observe a ceasefire for a political settlement that respects the independence and sovereignty of Chad and does not endorse a coup d’etat,” FACT spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol told Reuters news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from N’Djamena, said the move “seems to be a response to the call by the transitional military council for dialogue”.
“It seems that the announcement that the rebel group is ready to observe ceasefire is just a step forward, but not a complete announcement of the ceasefire and it remains to be seen how many other armed groups are ready to lay down their weapons and negotiate with the transitional military council,” she said.
The military council is under pressure to hand over power to a civilian transitional government as soon as possible.
The African Union has expressed “grave concern” about the military takeover, while France and regional powers are pushing for a civilian-military solution.
A move towards temporary civilian-military rule could offer Chad a way out of the crisis.
Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani are acting as mediators on behalf of the African Union. United Nations representatives are also holding talks with both sides.
A consensus is emerging among opposition politicians and civil society to support a transitional civilian president with a military vice president or prime minister, they told Reuters.
The proposal would mirror a transition in Mali, where a coup last August prompted international calls for the military to relinquish power.
A civilian president was appointed with a vice president from the military, although the Malian opposition is still concerned about the military’s hold on power.
“Most of us are in favour of cohabitation between the military, politicians and civil society,” said Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo, president of the opposition PLD party. “The Malian model … is very inspiring.”
Any agreement will require cooperation from the military council.
Its spokesman, Azem Bermendao Agouna, said it was open to discussions, but added: “The army will solve all the major challenges and will organise free and transparent elections.”