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Ahead of Idriss Deby’s funeral, Chad rebels say command hit by air strike

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Chadian rebels said on Friday their command centre was bombed on Wednesday night in an attempt to kill their leader, as the nation gathered to pay homage to slain President Idriss Deby who was killed on the frontline on Monday.

The rebels have this month swept south across the desert from their bases in Libya towards N’Djamena, and say they are around 200-300 km (125-190 miles) from the Chadian capital.

They called a temporary ceasefire to allow Friday’s funeral for Deby to take place. It is being attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, Guinean President Alpha Conde and several other African heads of state.

The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which was formed by dissident army officers in 2016, accused the French air force of assisting the overnight bombing with aerial surveillance.

“Our command was bombed on the orders of the military junta with the complicity of foreign agencies present in our country”, in an attempt to kill leader Mahamat Mahadi Ali, FACT said in a statement.

The group did not specify where the command centre was located or give details of any casualties or damage. Reuters was not immediately able to obtain confirmation of the attack from other sources.

French security officials were not immediately able to comment, but have previously said they provide logistical support to the Chadian armed forces.

Deby, who ruled for 30 years, was a staunch ally of Western powers in the fight against Islamist militants in the region. He died just as election officials announced he had won a sixth term in office.

French diplomatic and military sources indicated that Paris would seriously consider intervening if the rebels – who are not linked to Islamists – were to close in on N’Djamena and threaten the stability of the country. Chad’s army did not respond to a request for comment.

On Thursday night, Macron held talks with Chad’s military council headed by Deby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, who took power after his father died.

The 37-year-old, who holds the rank of general, has said the army will hold democratic elections in 18 months.

Opposition leaders have condemned his takeover as a coup and have called for a period of civil disobedience, while an army general said many officers were opposed to the transition plan.

On Friday morning, colourful tents had been erected in a horse-shoe shape in a square in the capital N’Djamena, where the funeral will take place.

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