N’DJAMENA, April 24 (Reuters) - Chadian President Idriss Deby has brought four political opponents into his new government, handing over the defence and justice posts to opposition figures in a major concession to critics.
Deby, who survived an assault by anti-government rebels on the capital N’Djamena and his presidential palace in early February, has come under pressure at home and abroad to loosen his grip over the landlocked former French colony.
Last week he appointed a career diplomat, Youssouf Saleh Abbas, as his prime minister, and Abbas immediately offered to negotiate a peace with the eastern rebels, many of whom are former government officials, military officers and soldiers.
In a presidential decree late on Wednesday, Deby named a new cabinet that included four members of the Coordination of Political Parties for the Defence of the Constitution (CPDC), a coalition that groups his main unarmed political foes.
The biggest surprise was his appointment as defence minister of a retired general and opposition figure, Wadal Abdelkader Kamougue, who was one of the military masterminds of the 1975 coup that overthrew Chad’s first president Francois Tombalbaye.
Kamougue, in his 60s, is an experienced political figure who served as Deby’s first prime minister after the latter seized power in an eastern revolt in 1990. Widely respected, he later formed an opposition party and became a parliament deputy.
The other new CPDC cabinet members are Justice Minister Jean Bawoyeu Alingue, Agriculture Minister Naimbaye Lossimian and Territorial Management Minister Hamid Mahamat Dahlob.
Chad’s opposition, most of whom boycotted as unfair the 2006 election that returned Deby for a third term, welcomed the appointments as the follow-up to a pact signed last year, in which the president pledged to seek a political consensus.
“We hope big reforms can be made which can lift up Chad,” said new minister Dahlob.
It was not clear if the new cabinet offered an immediate prospect of peace with the armed rebel groups in the east which Deby says are supported and supplied by Chad’s neighbour Sudan.
Sudan denies the charges and has in turn accused Deby of supporting Sudanese anti-government rebels fighting in the war-torn Darfur region, which borders Chad.
Deby and his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan al-Bashir signed a non-aggression pact in Senegal last month in which each pledged not to let his territory to be used by rebels hostile to the other. But each has accused the other of breaking the deal.
At least one of the Chadian rebel groups reacted coolly last week to Prime Minister Abbas’ offer of peace talks. Deby, a French-trained former pilot, has resisted rebel calls that he step down and allow fresh elections to appoint a successor.
The CPDC wants Deby to seek peace with the eastern rebels, who have demanded that he launch a national dialogue involving both political opposition parties and armed insurgent groups.
The rebels, who denounce Deby as corrupt and dictatorial, say the dialogue should mark the start of a transition period leading to fresh, democratic elections.
In his new cabinet, Deby named as his foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, another former prime minister, but kept on Ahmat Mahamat Bachir as his interior minister. He brought back as oil minister Mahamat Nasser Hassane, who had previously occupied the post until he was sacked in 2006.
Chad started pumping crude oil in 2003 through a pipeline to Cameroon operated by U.S. major Exxon Mobil Corp. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/)
Writing by Pascal Fletcher, Editing by Mark Trevelyan