NDJAMENA (AFP) — A Chadian criminal court on Friday condemned exiled former president Hissene Habre to death in absentia for crimes against humanity, judicial officials said.
The court also sentenced 11 Chadian rebel leaders to death in absentia.
All 12 defendants were convicted for having attacked the "constitutional order and the integrity and security of the territory."
Among the 11 rebel leaders convicted and sentenced was their overall leader Mahamat Nouri.
Reacting to the sentence, Nouri, who was a close aide to Habre and served as his defence minister, attacked President Idriss Deby Itno.
"I think that if there is anyone to condemn for the crimes they have committed it is Idriss Deby," he told AFP by telephone from Libreville in Gabon.
Nouri alleged that he was responsible for deaths among the civilian population and for drug trafficking and forgery.
Another 31 rebels were sentenced, also in absentia, to life sentences with hard labour for having carried out attacks designed to destroy or overthrow the regime of President Idriss Deby Itno.
The court also ordered the confiscation of all the goods belonging to those convicted, each of whom was ordered to pay a single CFA franc in symbolic compensation to the state.
Habre has lived in Senegal since 1991. He was toppled from power in 1990 after an eight-year reign during which thousands of Chadians were allegedly tortured.
From Senegal, El Hadji Diouf, one of Habre's lawyers reacted angrily to the news.
Reached by telephone, he told AFP: "I refuse to comment on this announcement, I don't want to be trapped by ill-intentioned people and give weight and credit to the lie.
"All that, it's manipulation, it's for you journalists to do some research, to check the source of the information," he added.
"You should ask where it happened, before what kind of jurisdiction and before which judge, and who was present at the trial."
An official truth commission report in 1992 accused Habre's regime of committing some 40,000 political murders -- of which only 4,000 victims have been officially named.
The chief prosecutor of Ndjamena's appeal court, Beassoun Ben Ngassoro, told AFP he could not comment on the verdict.
Dakar-based African human rights watchdog Raddho, a civil party to the planned Senegalese trial of Habre, said it "totally disapproved" of the death sentence for the Chadian dictator.
"It is an iniquitous, political and hurried decision .... We are fundamentally opposed to the death sentence and we have always been against a trial for Habre in Chad due to the weakness of the judicial system and the fact that it is often used for political means," Raddho spokesman Alioune Tine, told AFP.
In July this year, Senegal took a step closer to putting the former Chadian dictator on trial when parliament approved changes to the constitution allowing Senegalese courts to lift the statute of limitations and prosecute past crimes against humanity.
The change effectively gave Senegal one of the world's strongest laws for prosecuting such crimes, said human rights activists.
In early February, rebel forces entered Chad from its eastern neighbour Chad and came close to toppling Deby's regime.
Within a week they had fought their way into the capital and as far as the gates of the presidential palace before they were forced to pull back.
Deby enjoyed the support of French forces based in the country, who supplied ammunition to Chadian forces and protected the capital's airport, allowing Chadian army helicopters to operate.
The rebels subsequently launched two further raids into Chad, in April and June, without reaching the capital.
During their June offensive, the Chadian rebels clashed briefly with European Union peacekeepers.
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