Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died of injuries suffered on the frontline in the Sahel country’s north, where he had gone to visit soldiers battling rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday.
Deby, 68, “has just breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield” over the weekend, army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement read out on state television.
The army said Deby had been commanding his army at the weekend as it battled against rebels who had launched a major incursion into the north of the country on election day.
The army said a military council led by the late president’s 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general, would replace him.
The shock announcement came a day after Deby, who came to power in a rebellion in 1990, won a sixth term, as per provisional results released on Monday. Deby took 79.3 percent of the vote in the April 11 presidential election, the results showed.
Deby postponed his victory speech to supporters and instead went to visit Chadian soldiers battling rebels, according to his campaign manager.
The rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which is based across the northern frontier with Libya, attacked a border post in the provinces of Tibesti and Kanem on election day and then advanced hundreds of kilometres south.
But it suffered a setback over the weekend.
Chad’s military spokesman Agouna told the Reuters news agency that army troops killed more than 300 fighters and captured 150 on Saturday in Kanem province, around 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Ndjamena.
Five government soldiers were killed and 36 were injured, he said.
Promise of bring peace and security
Deby was a herder’s son from the Zaghawa ethnic group who took the classic path to power through the army, and relished the military culture.
His latest election victory had never been in doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.
Deby had campaigned on a promise of bringing peace and security to the region, but his pledges were undermined by the rebel incursion.
The government had sought on Monday to assure concerned residents that the offensive was over.
There had been panic in some areas of N’Djamena on Monday after tanks were deployed along the city’s main roads, an AFP journalist reported. The tanks were later withdrawn apart from a perimeter around the president’s office, which is under heavy security during normal times.
“The establishment of a security deployment in certain areas of the capital seems to have been misunderstood,” government spokesman Cherif Mahamat Zene had said on Twitter on Monday.
“There is no particular threat to fear.”
However, the US embassy in N’Djamena had on Saturday ordered non-essential personnel to leave the country, warning of possible violence in the capital. Britain also urged its nationals to leave.
France’s embassy said in an advisory to its nationals in Chad that the deployment was a precaution and there was no specific threat to the capital.
The group, FACT, has a non-aggression pact with Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman who controls much of Libya’s east.
FACT, a group mainly made up of the Saharan Goran people, said in a statement on Sunday that it had “liberated” the Kanem region. Such claims in remote desert combat zones are difficult to verify.
The Tibesti mountains near the Libyan frontier frequently see fighting between rebels and the army, as well as in the northeast bordering Sudan. France carried out air raids in February 2019 to stop an incursion there.
In February 2008, a rebel assault reached the gates of the presidential palace before being pushed back with French backing.