Paris—Chad rebel chief Mahamat Nouri was charged in Paris Friday with crimes against humanity in a probe involving the recruitment of child soldiers in Chad and Sudan, a judicial source said.
The general has also been charged with participation in a criminal conspiracy to commit a crime against humanity, and placed in provisional detention, said the source.
A second suspect, former rebel spokesman Abakar Tollimi, has not been charged but was given the preliminary status of “assisted witness”, which can precede a formal indictment.
The pair are suspected of having “carried out operations of forced recruitment of combatants, including minors,” in Chad and the bordering Sudanese province of Darfur between December 2005 and July 2010, according to prosecutors.
But Nouri’s lawyer, Elise Le Gall, told AFP her client rejected the allegation that there were minors among his fighters.
She said she would appeal the indictment and 72-year-old Nouri’s detention.
Under French law, Nouri was “mis en examen”, a legal term that has no direct equivalent in the American or British legal systems but roughly translates as being charged.
The French term does not automatically trigger a trial but means that prosecutors believe there is strong or corroborated evidence of wrongdoing.
Nouri, the exiled leader of the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD), was detained at his home in western Paris on Monday.
Founded by Nouri, the UFDD is one of the main groups opposing Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno. Some of its forces are based in southern Libya.
Before joining the rebels, Nouri had served in several ministerial positions and held the position of defense minister between 2001 and 2003. He was then appointed as Chad’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 2004, holding the post for two years.
He is known to be close to former president Hissene Habre, who was ousted by Deby in 1990.
In 2006, following Deby’s controversial re-election, Nouri went over to the rebels, setting up base with his UFDD in Sudan, from where he launched an offensive on eastern Chad later that year which was rebuffed by the army.
He also took the lead in subsequent rebellions as part of the National Alliance which in February 2008 used Sudan as a base for launching an offensive on N’Djamena in a bid to overthrow the regime.
The rebels managed to reach the gates of the presidential palace before being repelled following violent clashes with the army, with the backing of French troops.
Later that year, Nouri was condemned to death in absentia in Chad.
In 2010, he was exiled from Sudan and spent a year in Qatar before taking refuge in France.
In January 2017, Paris froze his assets for six months.
His expulsion from Sudan came just months after Khartoum and N’Djamena normalized relations following years of tension marked by mutual accusations that each side was supporting the other’s rebels.