(Paris)- The Chadian government should promptly account for missing opposition leader Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, who was arrested by state security forces one month ago, Human Rights Watch said today.

A second prominent opposition parliamentarian arrested at the same time, Ngarlejy Yorongar, resurfaced in the last few days. He told Human Rights Watch that after 18 days in government custody he had escaped and is now in Cameroon. According to Yorongar, Ibni was beaten during his arrest and was in bad health when Yorongar last saw him.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said that a commission of inquiry announced by Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno and heralded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his recent visit to Chad lacks independence and credibility because it is headed by the president of the Chadian National Assembly, a close ally of President Déby.

“President Sarkozy has come and gone, and Ibni is still missing,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “A commission run by a member of Chad’s ruling party can’t be independent. President Déby has pulled the wool over President Sarkozy’s eyes.”

A Human Rights Watch investigation in Chad determined that Ibni, spokesman for a coalition of opposition political parties, Lol Mahamat Choua, a former president of Chad, and Yorongar, president of the political party Fédération Action pour la République, were seized on February 3, 2008 by state security forces. Their arrests were part of a crackdown on political opponents in the capital N’Djamena following a coup attempt by Chadian rebels in early February.

On February 27, during a visit to Chad by President Sarkozy, President Déby said that Chad had established “an international commission of inquiry to shed light on the series of events that took place in N’Djamena” during the rebel attack. He said the commission would be led by the National Assembly president, Nassour Ouaidou Guelendouksia, a member of President Déby’s party and a former prime minister. The commission’s mandate is not limited to the question of the “disappeared” politicians. According to the decree creating the commission, its mandate covers “the Sudanese aggression of January 28 - February 8.” The commission will have 11 members, including seven Chadians and one each from the European Union, the African Union, France and the International Organization of La Francophonie.

On February 27, President Déby stated that the rebel attack “caused the death and disappearances of more than 400 civilians, including the leaders of political parties,” which suggests an attempt to blame the rebels for the “disappearance” of Ibni. President Déby also said that “certain leaders of political parties, such as Lol Mahamat Choua, who were found with the rebels, were arrested.”

The Chadian government on February 14 had acknowledged custody of Lol Mahamat Choua. After being placed under house arrest, he has since been released. President Déby said that the “international inquiry will look at what Lol was up to during that period.”

Human Rights Watch’s investigation, based on the testimony of multiple eyewitnesses, found that government soldiers took Yorongar, Ibni and Lol Mahamat Choua into custody from their homes on February 3. Contrary to the allegations of Chadian Interior Minister Bachir, Human Rights Watch’s investigation found that in each instance government security forces had reasserted full control over the neighborhoods in question from rebel forces before the time of the arrests.

Yorongar’s account of his arrest by government soldiers on February 3 verifies the events as published by Human Rights Watch. He told Human Rights Watch that he was then taken to a prison inside a military base near the presidency, where Ibni and Lol Mahamat Choua were also held. He said that he was held in chains for 18 days until the early morning of February 21, when his captors took him to a nearby cemetery, unchained him and fired in his direction but did not hit him. Yorongar then fled and made his way to Cameroon.

Yorongar’s release on February 21 coincided with statements by the Chadian and French foreign ministers that Yorongar had been “found alive.”

Human Rights Watch called for an investigation that met international standards for the independence of fact-finding missions, such as an investigation by the UN’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for the Chadian government to immediately account for the “disappeared” politician.

“The government took Ibni into custody and the government should produce him,” said Gagnon.

On February 11, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Human Rights Watch that President Déby had indicated that the “disappeared” politicians were being held at the headquarters of state intelligence, the Direction des Renseignements Generaux, in N’Djamena.

Human Rights Watch remains concerned that Ibni is a victim of enforced disappearance. The International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, which Chad signed on February 6, 2007, defines an enforced disappearance as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such a person outside the protection of the law.”