France calls for protection force in Darfur neighbours

France on Wednesday called for a joint force of United Nations and European Union peacekeepers to protect civilians in parts of Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) bordering Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

It tabled a resolution at the UN Security Council for a mixed force in eastern Chad and the north-east of the CAR, where the refugee crisis caused by a brutal civil war in Darfur has spilled over.

The text approves a year-long ”multidimensional presence intended to help create the security conditions conducive to a voluntary, secure and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons”.

It would consist of 300 UN police officers tasked with training 850 Chadians to police the displacement camps, and an EU military force of up to 4 000 to protect the areas — a proposal approved in principle by the Europeans in July.

This European contingent would also back up the 26 000 troops of the joint peace force agreed by the UN and the African Union and due to be fully deployed in Darfur by mid-2008.

The French military would play a major role in the EU force for Chad and the CAR, two of France’s former colonies, with the operation headquartered in Paris, according to the text of the resolution.

Chad alone harbours 236 000 refugees from Darfur and 173 000 Chadians internally displaced. The CAR has seen an influx of 10 000 refugees and more than 200 000 of its own people displaced in the north and north-east.

France’s ambassador to the UN, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said he hoped the resolution would be adopted by the end of the month. – Sapa-AFP

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