Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, who ruled the central African country for more than 30 years has been killed on the battlefield during a fight against rebels. He died from injury sustained during the fight, the country’s military announced on national television and radio on Tuesday.
Deby was killed barely hours after electoral officials declared him the winner of the April 11 presidential election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years.
“The President of the Republic, Head of State, Supreme Chief of armies, Idris Deby Itno, has breathed his last while defending the territorial integrity of the Country on the battlefield. It is with deep bitterness that we announce to the Chadian people the death this Tuesday, April 20, 202”, the military said.
The military said the president had taken “the heroic lead in combat operations against terrorists who had come from Libya.” After being wounded in battle, he then was taken to the capital, the general announced.
Deby’s death happened two days after the U.S ordered nonessential U.S. personnel out of Chad amid growing concerns about advancing rebel forces in the country. The announcement was posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Chad, according to The Hill.
Deby, 68, who came to power through military coup in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, surviving numerous coup attempts and rebellions. He was an important Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants in Africa.
Some foreign observers have questioned how a head of state could have been killed, saying it cast doubt on his protective guard. The Chadian military had only acknowledged five deaths in weekend fighting in which it said it had killed 300 rebels, AP reported.
“We still don’t have the whole story,” Laith Alkhouri, a global intelligence adviser, told The Associated Press. “It raises concerns regarding the security forces’ assessment of the clashes and their intelligence regarding the severity of the situation.”
Other analysts pointed to Deby’s long history of visiting the battlefield as a former army commander-in-chief himself.
“There’s no evidence to suggest this was a coup committed by his troops. Anyone who follows Deby knows he used to say ‘to lead troops you have to smell the gunpowder,’” tweeted Cameron Hudson with the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
An 18-month transitional council will be led by Idris Deby 37-year old son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general, the military said, also imposing a nightly curfew of 6 p.m.
“In the face of this worrying situation, the people of Chad must show their attachment to peace, to stability, and to national cohesion,” Gen. Azem Bermandoa Agouma said.