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Chad’s military junta head Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno

Chad’s ruling military junta on Wednesday accused a rebel leader of seeking the help of Russian mercenaries to derail a reconciliation process and topple those in power.

Timan Erdimi, who heads the powerful Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), solicited the help of paramilitaries from Russian private military contractor Wagner, according to the junta. The junta said that an incriminating phone conversation, leaked on social media, proved Erdimi’s guilt.

“We confirm that this is the voice of Timan Erdimi,” said Abderaman Koulamallah, spokesman for the government appointed by the military junta.

Chad’s late veteran president Idriss Deby Itno

Chad’s veteran president Idriss Deby Itno died last April fighting rebels in the north of the volatile Sahel country. His 37-year-old son, Lieutenant-General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, swiftly took over at the head of a junta.

After dismissing the government, dissolving the parliament and repealing the constitution, he promised “free and transparent” elections in 18 months. However last month the junta announced that a national forum designed to chart the country’s future would be postponed by nearly three months.

Erdimi was one of the older Deby’s fiercest enemies. Government spokesman Koulamallah said that in the telephone recording Erdimi, who lives in exile in Qatar, is heard talking to an “adviser to the Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera”. 

The Central African Republic has become a key area in the controversy over the role in the continent of the Wagner mercenary group which is allegedly run by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the phone call Erdimi asked for “Russians” to come to Chad and help him “to drive out Mahamat and France,” Koulamallah said.

France intervened militarily in the Sahel region in 2013.

Erdimi, contacted by AFP by phone, refused to comment on the allegation, saying he wanted to “consult” UFR members.

In the Central African capital Bangui, the government said that the named “adviser” to President Touadera had been dismissed from his post a year ago. 

“This gentleman may be trying to take advantage of his former position to serve his own interests,” Central African presidency spokesman Albert Yaloke Mokpeme told AFP.

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