Friday, January 11, 2008

European Union Force to Deploy to Chad, CAR Next Month

BRUSSELS 10 January 2007 Sapa-AFP


The first elements of a European Union peacekeeping force will deploy to Chad and the Central African Republic early next month to protect people fleeing fighting, an EU diplomat said Thursday.

"We now expect the formal decision to launch the operation to be taken at the end of January and that straight after the first troops would arrive on the ground in the first week of February," the diplomat said.

The EUFOR Chad-CAR contingent is tasked with protecting hundreds of thousands of war refugees from Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region in the two neighbouring countries, along with people displaced by internal fighting.

The deployment of the French-led force, which is due to number 3,500 troops, was originally meant to have begun in November.

Some 234,000 Darfur refugees, along with 178,000 eastern Chadians and 43,000 Central Africans also uprooted by strife and rebellion in the north of their country, are housed in camps in the region.

Many are in danger due to the insurgency there.

Despite the pressing need, the EU has struggled to drum up troops.

France had pledged at least 1,350 troops to the force but requests for extra personnel, key aircraft and helicopters had not been filled, according to military sources.

In the face of the shortfall, "France informed its European allies on Tuesday that it would provide the necessary means to launch the operation," said the diplomat.

Paris is expected to provide around a dozen helicopters and
transport aircraft, as well logistical support, the diplomat said, confirming a report in the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Twenty-one EU nations are also members of NATO, and many have been called on to send troops to other hot-spots, like Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia, as well as to Lebanon under the United Nations.

The EU force will be led by an Irish general and will also be made up of contributions from Austria, Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

It has a UN Security Council mandate and will help to back up some 300 UN police officers sent to monitor camps for Darfur refugees and internally displaced persons.

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