French President Nicolas Sarkozy is set for a brief touchdown in Chad, amid concerns for the safety of Chadian opposition leaders seized after the rebel attack on N'Djamena earlier this month. (Story: K.Spencer, N. Rushworth)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy should not visit Chad unless its government proves that two opposition figures said by their families to have been seized by Chad's military are alive, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
A government source in Paris said Sarkozy would stop over briefly in the central African country on Wednesday on his way to South Africa, and would meet Chadian President Idriss Deby.
Controversy surrounds the fate of three opponents of Deby who were dragged from their homes by armed men on Feb. 3 in the dying hours of a rebel attack on the capital N'Djamena.
Chadian authorities have admitted they detained former president Lol Mahamat Choua, 70, as a "prisoner of war" on Feb.
3. The government said on Tuesday Choua was being freed from a military prison but would remain under house arrest while the inquiry against him continued.
But the authorities deny holding two other opposition figures, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh and Ngarlejy Yorongar.
Contesting this, Human Rights Watch cited eyewitnesses saying that Saleh and Yorongar were seized by government soldiers on Feb. 3 as the rebels pulled back from N'Djamena.
"Human Rights Watch is concerned that the two men are victims of enforced disappearance," the U.S.-based rights group said in a statement which called on the government to reveal the whereabouts of the two and release them.
Former colonial power France has backed Deby against the rebels, and intelligence and logistics support from the French military helped him to beat off the two-day insurgent assault.
Human Rights Watch said it would be wrong for Sarkozy to visit Chad while the fate of the missing opponents was unclear.
"We believe that Sarkozy should not go to Chad unless there is concrete evidence that Saleh and Yorongar are alive," HRW's Reed Brody told Reuters. "Given there is little doubt they were taken by the authorities, the authorities should produce them."
HRW researcher Olivier Bercault, just back from a 10-day visit to Chad, said the vehicles, uniforms, insignias and weapons used by the armed men who took Yorongar and Saleh all indicated they belonged to the Chadian army.
"Chad's democracy is in danger," Bercault told Radio France International, saying a government military crackdown since the rebel attack had created "terror" in the capital N'Djamena.
Chadian Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir has said government agents saw Yorongar last week at his home in the capital. His family denies this and says he remains missing.
HRW's Brody said international support for Deby against the rebels should not ignore human rights.
Chad accuses neighbouring Sudan of backing the anti-Deby rebels, a charge denied by Khartoum.
Date created : 2008-02-26