Chad wants MINURCAT to leave

2010-02-18 10:11

New York - 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 UN officials said on 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 UN 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.

President Idriss Deby has asked the Security Council not to renew the mandate of the border monitoring mission in turbulent eastern Chad. He said last week the force had not deployed fully and could not fulfill its task of protecting civilians.

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.

Safety and security

"We want MINURCAT to stay and we want it to stay with its full complement," UN 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.

"I hope there's still room for discussion with the Chadian authorities, because we really fear the consequences if the force were withdrawn."

MINURCAT is responsible for ensuring security for humanitarian activities in the northeast of Chad, a region known for lawlessness and banditry.

UN 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, UN spokesperson 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.

New context

But Chad's UN Ambassador Ahmad Allam-mi said on Wednesday there was a "new context" in the region, with ties between his country and Sudan improving. Deby made a rare visit to Khartoum last week and agreed with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to end the two countries' proxy wars.

"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," he told a news conference.

But he said N'djamena was flexible and was 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.

Le Roy said that was "not an option" as civilian staff depended on military protection. Holmes said it was "very hard to imagine at the moment" that Chadian forces could protect civilians.

UN diplomats said they understood that Chad wanted the U.N. military out of the country by July at the latest. They also said Le Roy was proposing to visit Chad next week to try to persuade the government to relent.