Around sixty soldiers are still missing in Chad following the country's presidential elections on 9 and 10 April, despite opposition calls for an independent investigation into their disappearance.
The missing military are believed to have vanished after having voted against the incumbent president, Idriss Deby, who is seeking a fifth term in office in the election contested by 13 candidates. Members of the armed forces voted on 9 April along with nomads, while the rest of the population voted on 10 April.
Earlier this week on 18 April, leader of the opposition and former minister Saleh Kebzabo alleged a number of bodies, said to be of some of the missing soldiers and bearing marks of torture, had been recovered in the Chari river after the poll.
Arrested for casting vote for the opposition?
By 20 April, human rights organisations in the northern Central African country had received the testimonies from 21 families, who were still without news of their relatives.
According to Banadji Pyrrhus, president of the Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Freedoms in Chad, families alleged that military commanders were present in the polling booths "to observe those who were not voting for the incumbent president". According to testimonies from the families of the missing soldiers, at least 21 soldiers "were then arrested and tortured".
Kebzabo, who was running under the Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau (National Union for Democracy and Denewal, UNDR) banner, said the name of the missing soldiers were on a list he claimed identified military officers, who were imprisoned, went missing or were killed for voting UNDR.
Pyrrhus, who is a spokesman for a group of six rights associations, told Radio France Internationale (RFI) that, while ballots are secret, in some cases "there are openings that allow one to observe, and if you vote for another candidate, you are identified and you are arrested on the way out".
The rights defender called for an independent investigation into how the military voted. "We demand the liberation without condition of these soldiers who have been arrested and are detained in secret locations. We also demand the opening of an independent inquiry to establish the responsibilities and punish the perpetrators. of these inhuman and barbaric acts."
Government: Soldiers are alive and on mission
Minister of Communication Mustapha Ali Alifeï slammed the "false allegations", telling RFI that all the missing officers are alive and on a mission. He added light would be shed on their case "in a few days".
"The duty called them to move away temporarily from their families. The defence and security forces who are the target of these malicious statements shall take the necessary steps to be able to bring the necessary clarification on their elements who are on a mandated mission in [their] duty stations."
Minister of Public Safety Bashir Ahmad Mahmat, meanwhile, was quoted by local media as saying that military personnel who are deployed do not always have the "audacity or the kindness to inform [their families]"
However, families have rejected the Chadian government's line. "It is a blatant lie to say that the person is on a mission and cannot pick up the phone. These are not comments that should be made. These are comments that really offend and annoy the victims' parents," said the brother of a missing soldier, who wished to remain anonymous.
According to his testimony, his brother went missing on 9 April - the day he voted. For around 72 hours, his phone was ringing, but went on voicemail after that.
Results from the presidential election are yet to be released.