N’DJAMENA (AFP) – At least three people were killed in a foiled coup attempt in Chad, the foreign minister said Thursday, and several arrested over the plot in the chronically unstable former French colony.
Several senior military figures were among those arrested following the alleged coup attempt, which a major ex-rebel group described as a fabrication engineered by the regime to purge the army.
Security services had for months been monitoring “a group of individuals who were preparing a plot against the state’s institutions” and swooped on one of their meetings in the capital on Wednesday, Moussa Faki said.
Some of them “responded by firing on the security forces. One officer was shot dead and in response two members of the group were gunned down. The others were arrested,” Faki said on the sidelines of a meeting in Brazzaville.
A police source told AFP earlier on Thursday that “several” people had been killed and around 15 others wounded in a shootout between security forces and the alleged conspirators on the outskirts of N’Djamena a day earlier.
Speaking before the foreign ministry update, some police sources spoke of six deaths, while others claimed eight were killed in the incident, “three of whom were security forces”.
The government serving under President Idriss Deby Itno, who himself came to power in a 1990 coup, on Wednesday said a “small group” had been planning “a destabilisation plot” while police and opposition sources said one of the detainees was an opposition lawmaker.
The situation appeared calm in the Chadian capital on Thursday, with residents going about their usual day-to-day activities.
“A small group of ill-intentioned individuals attempted to carry out a destabilisation plot against the institutions of the republic,” the government said in a statement Wednesday.
It added that the army had “neutralised” the group and that the arrested ringleaders had been handed over to prosecutors for investigation.
“This small group… had been conspiring for more than four months to jeopardise the country’s hard-won peace,” it said.
Between 2005 and 2010, Deby’s regime faced rebellions that destabilised large swathes of the vast country.
On Saturday, Deby told Radio France Internationale that “mercenaries”, currently in Libya’s second largest city Benghazi, were trying to “regroup Chadians”.
Chad’s top prosecutor Mahamat Saleh told reporters that General Weiding Assi Assoue, another top general, as well as a lawmaker from Deby’s ruling party and another from the opposition were among those arrested.
Weiding is a former defence minister and army chief of staff.
The Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), a former rebel group that demobilised in 2009 as part of a peace deal but announced from Qatar in March that it planned to take up arms again, claimed there was no coup plot.
This was a “poorly disguised sham targeting members of the army… an odious crime against unarmed men that Deby hopes to pass off as a coup attempt,” the group said in a statement.
The UFR said the men accused of plotting to overthrow the regime were members of the armed forces who had been “unfairly dismissed and had gathered to mull a strategy to press their case.”
France on Thursday said it had noted the latest events in Chad “with concern”, and called on the country’s government and opposition to engage in “calm and constructive dialogue” with each other.
Chad recently started producing oil but is still one of the world’s poorest nations and was ranked fourth on the Fund For Peace’s 2012 failed state index.
In March 2006, the government said soldiers and police had thwarted a bid to overthrow Deby’s regime and kill him by shooting down his aircraft.
Deby came to power in a December 1990 coup when he overthrew Hissene Habre, who seized power in 1982 after a two-year civil war. Deby had been Habre’s military adviser.
Six years later he won the sub-Saharan nation’s first multi-party presidential election since independence from France in 1960.
Earlier this year, Chad sent around 2,000 troops to Mali to contribute to a French-led military offensive to dislodge Islamist extremists who had seized large swathes of the north last year.
Observers saw Deby’s deployment of the largest African force to Mali as a bid to take a leading role in the region and fill part of the power vacuum left by Moamer Kadhafi’s demise in neighbouring Libya.