U.N. wants to keep Chad peacekeepers, gov't says no
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations, fearing for the safety of refugees in Chad, wants to keep its peacekeepers in the African country despite a government demand that they leave, senior U.N. officials said Wednesday.
The Security Council, which sent the MINURCAT peacekeeping force to Chad last year, is "very much interested in maintaining MINURCAT on the spot. That's also our point of view," said U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy.
"But of course we have to take into account the views of the authorities of Chad," Le Roy told reporters after briefing the council in a closed session. The presence of a peacekeeping force depends on the consent of the host government.
Le Roy will travel to Chad next week to discuss the future of the force with the country's authorities, said France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud, the current council president.
Chad's President Idriss Deby has asked the Security Council not to renew the mandate of the border monitoring mission in the turbulent east. He said last week the force had not fully deployed and was unable to protect civilians.
Chad's U.N. Ambassador Ahmad Allam-mi said Wednesday there was a "new context" in the region, with ties between his country and Sudan improving.
The mandate of MINURCAT lapses in mid-March. The blue helmet force, which has an authorized full strength of over 5,500 troops and police, began deploying in March 2009 when U.N.-commanded troops took over from a European Union force.
"We want MINURCAT to stay and we want it to stay with its full complement," U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes, who also briefed the 15-nation council, told journalists.
"We think they're very important for the safety and security of the people in the camps, the civilians in general and for the humanitarian operation," Holmes said. "We really fear the consequences if the force were withdrawn."
LAWLESSNESS AND BANDITRY
MINURCAT is responsible for ensuring security for humanitarian activities in the northeast of Chad, a region known for lawlessness and banditry.
U.N. officials say there are about half a million refugees in the area, half of them from the violence-torn Darfur region of neighboring Sudan and the rest from Chad itself and the Central African Republic.
Last week, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Chad's request was "regrettable" and denied the mission had been a failure. He said some 70 percent of MINURCAT's authorized full strength had now been deployed.
Deby made a rare visit to Khartoum last week and agreed with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to end the proxy wars between Chad and Sudan.
"Given the changed context ... Chad is able to guarantee security in the east of Chad in order to take over from MINURCAT's military component and that is why we are calling for its withdrawal," Allam-mi told a news conference.
But the envoy said N'djamena was flexible and open to an "interim solution" that would not involve an immediate withdrawal. Chad was interested in MINURCAT civilian staff staying on while the military withdrew, he said, but Le Roy said that was "not an option."
Araud said Le Roy would "have a wide range of consultations with Chadian authorities to understand their concerns and to see how the U.N. can address these concerns. The ultimate decision will be taken by the U.N. Security Council."
But U.N. diplomats said they understood that Chad wanted the U.N. military out of the country by July at the latest.
One senior envoy said attempts so far to persuade Deby to change his mind had run into "a wall of concrete" and suggested the best option might be to discuss a gradual withdrawal.