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Qatar takes up mediation role in Chad talks: officials, rebels

Qatar has been hosting Chadian peace talks since March 13 aimed at ending a rebellion and holding elections in the African country
— Doha (AFP)

Qatar has agreed to act as a mediator in Chad peace talks in a bid to unblock the fledgling process, officials and rebel groups said Friday.

Representatives of the government and more than 40 rebel and political opponents have been in Qatar for more than two weeks trying to launch negotiations that could lead to elections this year in the landlocked African state.

Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno promised change after seizing control following the death in April last year of his father, the country's longtime leader Idriss Deby Itno, in a battle with rebels.

But the myriad opposition groups in Doha have refused to hold direct talks with the government, throwing in doubt plans to start a full national dialogue in May to draw up a new constitution.

Qatar -- which has previously helped in peace efforts for Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan and between the Afghan Taliban and US government -- had agreed to host the talks but initially wanted to stay out of the main negotiations.

The opposition groups say the Gulf state's agreement to take on a greater role is an important boost.

Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani, the Qatar government's special envoy for mediation, said in a statement to AFP that "the Chad peace negotiations are progressing on the right track, despite some challenges."

"The various Chadian parties have officially requested that the state of Qatar plays a mediation role in the ongoing peace negotiations in Doha."

- Delays loom -

Opposition representatives and officials close to the talks confirmed that Qahtani had started work as a mediator.

"This is progress," said Issa Ahmet, a spokesperson for the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, one of the key rebel groups.

Three opposition alliances have each set up a negotiating committee and the mediator has held individual meetings with them on contacts with the government.

"Each committee is putting forward its expectations and conditions," Ahmet added. More discussions will be held on Monday.

FACT, which was the group fighting the elder Deby when he was fatally wounded, want a wider amnesty for rebels. The mediator has a long list of political demands from other groups including the return of seized assets.

Under the plan of the younger Deby, a 38-year-old army general, the Doha talks would lead to a national dialogue starting on May 10 before agreeing a new constitution and then holding elections.

"They have lost two weeks and it is turning into a long process," said an African diplomat monitoring the talks. "The Chadians will struggle to start the national dialogue on time."

The talks are being keenly watched in Africa because of Chad's position in the heart of a region facing a mounting challenge from Islamist militants.

With its constellation of ethnic groups and armed outfits, Chad has had a long history of volatility since gaining independence from France in 1960. Tens of thousands have died in various conflicts.

The government and opposition have been urged by the African Union and other countries to make concessions to advance the talks.