Chadian President Idriss Deby has dismissed the 5,000-strong military unit acting as his presidential guard, days after the government failed to reel in scores of defecting soldiers who have regrouped in the volatile east of the country.
A presidential decree signed on Friday and released at the weekend declared: “The Republican Guard is dissolved. … All persons and equipment of the Republican Guard are to be reverted to the army.”
Analysts say the move is a sign that Deby has moved into survival mode.
"The decision to dissolve the [Republican Guard] hints at panic within the regime and suggests that Deby - a military strategist of some merit - has moved beyond damage limitation strategies into full-blown regime survival mode," said Chris Melville of the London-based research group Global Insight.
Earlier this month the Chadian government acknowledged that at least 40 soldiers had deserted their posts in the capital, N’djamena, and fled to the east.
It is unclear exactly how many have defected. An opposition website said around 600 soldiers were involved in the defections. The self-proclaimed head of the group, Yaya Dillo Djerou, told IRIN by telephone last week that his numbers were even bigger than that, though he didn't give a precise figure.
The deserters, calling themselves the Platform for Change, National Unity and Democracy, have rejected talks with government officials, saying they wanted a number of demands met first.
The group was also unsatisfied with the make-up of the government delegation sent to meet with them, according to Djerou.
The Chadian government in the past two weeks has repeatedly downplayed the desertions, saying the national military has the security situation completely under control.
But Melville at Global Insight said Deby’s latest move was an overt acknowledgement of the seriousness of the desertions.
“The presidential guard is a leader’s last defence,” Melville told IRIN. “This dissolution is a very alarming development.”
Bringing members of the presidential guard into the fold of the national army could give Deby some cover in the face of the security threat posed by the defectors, Melville said. But there is also the risk that disgruntled members of the disbanded guard might be resentful of the move and defect themselves.
Deby, who came to power in a coup in 1990, has repeatedly faced dissension within the ranks of the armed forces. The government has said members of the presidential guard were behind an attempted coup in May 2004.
Eastern Chad - where the defectors are stationed - has been shaken by the fallout from the two-year-old conflict in Darfur, western Sudan next door, a conflict which has put Deby in a tough spot from the start.
The Darfur fighting pits the Sudanese government - which backed Deby in snatching power in Chad - against rebels who share the same ethnicity as the Chadian leader.
With Deby struggling to maintain a delicate balance over the months, some in the Chadian military have criticised their leader time and again for not doing more for their Zaghawa kin in their battle with Sudanese forces and allied militia.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions