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Investigation says Chadian opponent Saleh probably dead

Latest update : 2008-09-04

A commission investigating the events surrounding the rebel attack on the Chadian capital N'Djamena last February concluded that opponent Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, who has been missing ever since, is probably dead.

N'DJAMENA - Chad's opposition criticised as inadequate on Wednesday an internationally-backed inquiry which said an opponent of President Idriss Deby was probably dead after he disappeared during a rebel offensive.

Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh was one of several opposition figures who were dragged from their homes by armed men in the hours following an attack by anti-Deby rebels on the Chadian capital N'Djamena in the first few days of February.

Deby has said some 700 people were killed during the rebel assault, which government forces held off with logistical and intelligence support from French aircraft and troops stationed in the landlocked African oil producer.

Amid outcry from the opposition, who accused Deby's soldiers of detaining the men, and following pressure from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chad's government agreed to set up a special international commission to probe the disappearances.

Other opponents of Deby in the former French colony have since turned up alive, but Saleh, a prominent figure of Chad's CPDC opposition coalition, has not so far been found.

The commission set up to investigate the February events said in its report made public on Wednesday there were reasons for thinking Saleh could be dead, either as a result of mistreatment by his unknown captors, or assassinated.

But while it cited one witness saying Saleh had been killed on Feb. 5 because he opposed Deby, the report reached no definitive conclusion about the missing man's fate.

"Perfect proof of Ibni Oumar's fate is clearly impossible to find without will being shown by the highest authorities of the state," the report by the commission, which had included Chadian civil society figures and four international experts, said.

Chad's opposition CPDC (Coordination of Political Parties for the Defence of the Constitution) said it was unhappy with the inquiry report. It said it had not fulfilled the objectives initially demanded by President Sarkozy.

"Our initial reaction is that we're not satisfied with this report," CPDC spokesman Salibou Garba said, adding the opposition coalition would give a more detailed reaction later.

Serious violations

The commission report said both rebel and government forces committed serious human rights violations during the heavy fighting around and in N'Djamena in late January and early February. This included numerous rapes.

The report recommended the Chadian authorities continue the investigations and prosecute those found guilty of abuses.

France's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the international observers who had taken part in the investigation believed it had been an impartial inquiry.

"But despite the rigorous and detailed work, the truth could not be established in certain matters, especially in the emblematic case of the disappearance of the opposition politician Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh," the statement said.

Opponents of Deby, a former French-trained pilot who seized power in a 1990 revolt, accuse him of being corrupt and ruling like a dictator. They say he unfairly favours members of his family and Zaghawa ethnic clan in the multi-racial country.

Last month, a Chadian court sentenced to death in absentia the main leaders of the eastern rebels who attacked the capital in early February. Chad says the insurgents are backed by its eastern neighbour Sudan, a charge denied by Khartoum.

Date created : 2008-09-04