UN warns against withdrawal of peacekeepers from Chad

Two top United Nations officials on Wednesday warned that withdrawing UN peacekeepers from Chad and the Central African Republic, as sought by Ndjamena, would hurt the area’s civilian population.

Alain Le Roy, the French head of UN peacekeeping operations, said both the Security Council and the UN secretariat wanted the UN peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic (Minurcat) to “keep its presence in Chad”.

Earlier on Wednesday, Chad’s UN ambassador, Ahmad Allam-mi, told reporters that Ndjamena was insisting on the departure of Minurcat’s troops, but wanted its civilian component to stay.

“This is not an option because we cannot keep the civilians without the military to protect them,” Le Roy responded.

“We want Minurcat to stay and we want them to stay with their full complement, because we think they are very important for the safety and security of the people in the camps, the civilians in general and for the humanitarian operations,” UN humanitarian chief John Holmes, concurred.

The call for Minurcat’s departure came as Sudan and Chad have taken steps towards normalisation, with an agreement to secure the border between them through a joint force.

Minurcat was established in 2007 to ensure the security of about 450 000 refugees and displaced persons in eastern Chad and north-east Central African Republic, two countries affected by the conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

The mission is also tasked with assisting with the voluntary repatriation of refugees and helping with humanitarian aid.

Last month, Chad asked the UN not to extend Minurcat’s mandate, which is due to expire in March.

Le Roy conceded on Wednesday that “we have to take into account the views of the authorities of Chad, the host country”. Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno has described Minurcat as a “failure”.

“Right now, halfway through, Minurcat is not operational and Minurcat will not be operational even if we give it another year,” Déby said last week while on a landmark visit to neighbouring Sudan.

The civilian part of the mission was tasked with developing the border, but “a year later, no project has been undertaken, so the Minurcat mission is a failure”, he added. “That is why we believe it is not necessary to extend it.”

Both Le Roy and Holmes discussed the issue on Wednesday with the 15-member Security Council, and the UN peacekeeping supremo said he expected to get some guidance from the council before heading for Chad next week to continue negotiations.

On March 15 2009, Minurcat took over from an EU mission called Eufor with a mandate of a year, with an option to extend. By December, 46% of its 5 200 troops had been deployed.—Sapa-AFP

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