Army assault kills Chad opposition leader Dillo ahead of election

A cousin and leading opponent of Chad’s transitional president Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno died in a battle with troops that his party said Thursday was an “assassination”.

Yaya Dillo Djerou, 49, had told AFP amid mounting tensions ahead of his death that people wanted to “physically eliminate me” before a May 6 presidential election in which he was expected to be the main rival to military junta leader Deby Itno.

Dillo died Wednesday after troops surrounded the Socialist Party Without Borders headquarters in the capital N’Djamena, government officials said.

A government spokesman said four soldiers and three party militants, described as “assailants” and including Dillo, died in Wednesday’s fighting.

Communications Minister Abderaman Koulamallah added that Dillo had “himself fired on the security forces”.

Dillo was “assassinated by the republican guard”, responded Evarisite Gabnon, a spokesman for the Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF).

Other opposition politicians also accused government forces of deliberately killing Dillo, including Rakhis Ahmat, leader of the Party for the Democratic Renewal of Chad and Max Kemkoye, spokesman for the CGAP opposition group.

“He could have been arrested by any other means,” said Ahmat.

But “the fact that a whole army was used against unarmed civilians” in the assault indicates that he was “assassinated”, Ahmat added.

Chad has been on political tenterhooks since Deby Itno seized power after the death of his father, longtime leader Idriss Deby Itno, in 2021 while fighting rebels.

The government had accused Dillo of leading an attack against the offices of Chad’s internal security agency the night before his death.

Internet access was cut in the capital and automatic gunfire was heard as the army carried out an assault on the party offices on Wednesday.

Koulamallah said Dillo had “retreated” to his party headquarters. “He didn’t want to surrender and fired on law enforcement.”

– ‘Physically eliminate me’ –

Security forces had this week sought the arrest of a member of Dillo’s party over an attempt to kill the supreme court president this month.

The government said the attack on the internal security offices, in which several people were killed, had been an act of reprisal.

Speaking to AFP shortly before his death, Dillo denied any involvement in the incident, denouncing the claim as a politically motivated “lie”.

“I wasn’t present,” he said.

“The desired goal is to prevent me, to physically eliminate me … to make me afraid so that I don’t go to the election,” Dillo said.

He said the attempted attack on the supreme court president had been “staged”.

Dillo had regularly complained that the May 6 ballot had been arranged to assure a victory for Deby Itno and demanded a change in the electoral calendar.

Chad is part of the tumultuous Sahel region in central Africa that has been gripped by jihadist insurgencies for more than a decade. There have been coups in neighbouring Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger since 2020.

Dillo was a rebel who became a minister and then an opposition chief considered a dangerous rival for his cousin.

Deby Itno and Dillo were from the same Zaghawa ethnic minority, which for more than three decades has dominated Chad’s politics.

Dillo was a candidate for the presidency in 2021 against his uncle, Idriss Deby Itno. He fled the country after security forces sought his arrest in a raid in which his mother and one of his sons were killed.

Shortly after being declared winner of the election in April 2021, Idriss Deby Itno died while fighting rebels and his son became transitional president at the age of 37.

Deby Itno had promised a return to civilian rule and elections within 18 months, but extended the transition by two years.

He told the African Union he would not run, but a constitution adopted in a December referendum allows him to do so.


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