France worried about Chad's stability after Deby's death

The announcement Tuesday of president Idriss Deby Itno's death from battlefield wounds plunged Chad into uncertainty and alarmed Western leaders who saw him as a key ally in the restless region.

FILE: Chad President Idriss Deby. Picture: AFP.

PARIS - The French government is concerned for Chad's political stability after the sudden death of its longtime ruler, but does not believe its new leaders will disengage from the Sahel's anti-jihadist fight, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday.

"It worries me. We must be very vigilant regarding the stability of the situation," Le Drian said on France 2 television.

"Is the transitional military council going to ensure Chad's stability and cohesion?" he said.

The announcement Tuesday of president Idriss Deby Itno's death from battlefield wounds plunged Chad into uncertainty and alarmed Western leaders who saw him as a key ally in the restless region.

Rebel forces have vowed to pursue their advance toward the capital N'Djamena, where Deby's 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby has assumed the presidency as head of a military council.

Opposition parties have denounced an "institutional coup d'etat," raising the spectre of a political vacuum even as Chad and other West African nations are struggling against entrenched jihadist insurgencies.

Le Drian acknowledged that under Chad's constitution, the national assembly president Haroun Kabadi should have ensured the transition.

"But he refused because of the exceptional security situation," Le Drian said.

He added that the council needed to clarify "how the Chadian army is going to fulfil its commitments to the common Sahel force."

Chad is a major contributor to the G5 anti-jihadist force, with some 1,200 soldiers stationed in Niger near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as hundreds more stationed with the UN's peacekeeping mission in Mali.

Unrest at home could prompt the country's new leaders to bring those soldiers home, potentially complicating the task for France's own 5,100-member Barkhane operation in the Sahel.

Asked if he thought the troops would be pulled, Le Drian said "I can't imagine it... I don't believe the transitional military council will go back on its commitments."

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