A Chadian court has handed down jail terms to 243 rebels who crossed into the northeast of the country from Libya in February before their incursion was halted by French air strikes, the government said on Tuesday, August 27.
Out of “267 people who were arrested, 12 were sentenced on Monday to 20 years in prison and 231 others to terms ranging from 10 to 15 years,” Justice Minister Djimet Arabi told AFP.
Twenty-four minors who had been detained were released, Arabi said.
The sentences were pronounced by a “special criminal court,” which also handed down life sentences in absentia against nearly a dozen rebel leaders living outside Chad, including their chief Timan Erdimi, he said.
Arabi said the special court had convened in Koro Toro, a prison located in the desert in the north of the country.
Proceedings began on August 20, the minister said.
“The rebels were sentenced yesterday after a fair trial,” he said.
An armed group opposed to Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, the Union of Resistance Forces, is based in the desert of southern Libya.
The UFR had crossed into northern Chad with “three columns” of vehicles, according to one of its members, Mahamat Doki Warou.
Chadian forces tried to stop the column with airstrikes at the beginning of February, before requesting strikes from French aircraft.
The French military said Mirage 2000 jets struck the convoy over three days, destroying about 20 of roughly 50 pickup trucks.
The insurgents had crossed 400 km (250 miles) of Chadian territory before being halted, France said.
Chad, a vast and mostly desert country with more than 200 ethnic groups, has suffered repeated coups and crises since it gained independence from France in 1960.
Deby, a former head of the armed forces, became president in 1990 after ousting his former boss, Hissene Habre in a coup with the help of colonial power France.
Chad has become a important member in the fight against mainly Islamist insurgency in the Sahel.
It is part of the West African coalition fighting Boko Haram and a member of the French-backed G5 Sahel Joint Force – which also includes Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – and French forces are there as part of the anti-insurgency strategy.
The UFR was created in January 2009 from an alliance of eight rebel groups.
In February 2008, a tripartite insurgent group, moving in from the east, reached the gates of the presidential palace in N’Djamena before being repelled by Deby’s forces.
With reporting from AFP