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US Presses Chad to Accept UN Peacekeeping Force

20 March 2007

A U.S. State Department official says the United States is pressing Chad to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force to help secure regional stability. The official told Congress the violence in the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan has spread over the border into Chad. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

In testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State For African Affairs James Swan underscored the importance of having a U.N. peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic, where ethnic violence has spilled over the borders from Sudan's Darfur region.

"Our primary focus at this point is in supporting a robust U.N. peacekeeping operation for Chad and Central African Republic that would focus both on protecting civilians and also deterring cross-border attack," said Swan.

"We believe the presence of such a mission, and particularly the execution of its civilian protection and monitoring mission, would lead to a reduction in violence," he added.

The government in the Central African Republic is willing to accept such a mission, but as Swan noted, Chad is resisting the idea.

"We were disappointed by the Chadian government's recent indications of concern over the military component of the proposed mission, and, specifically, the deployment of an advanced mission," he said. "We are continuing to engage President [Idriss] Deby to convince him to accept a military force as part of this package."

Swan said, if the international community finds it difficult to contribute large numbers of troops to such a mission, the United States would support a smaller force, backed by heavy equipment.

"We recognize that, with already 100,000 international peacekeeping troops currently deployed worldwide, that force generation for the Chad-CAR mission is going to be a challenge," said Swan.

"Therefore, if it becomes necessary, we are willing to consider alternative options, including those that might involve a slight decrease in the number of troops, in exchange for greater logistical support and equipment, including helicopters that would keep the force agile and still muscular," he continued.

Swan will visit Chad and the Central African Republic next week.

Violence from Darfur began spreading into eastern Chad in late 2005. Armed militias have attacked many villages in the region, robbing people and burning down homes.

The United Nations says the violence has displaced thousands of Chadians, about 20,000 of whom have sought refuge in West Darfur.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Swan says poor governance is a major cause of Chadian instability. He says U.S. policy toward Chad emphasizes democratic reform, respect for human rights and transparent governance.

Swan also said the violence in Chad has forced relief organizations to reduce their presence in the country.

The president of Refugees International, Ken Bacon, told the Senate panel that the international community must do more to help those displaced by the violence in Chad.

"Although the United Nations is working to improve humanitarian services for refugees in Darfur, aid for the internally displaced populations in eastern Chad has been completely inadequate," said Ken Bacon.

International Crisis Group Senior Adviser John Prendergast called for the United States to take a more active role in seeking a political solution to the region's conflicts.

"The level of U.S. engagement has to be expanded, I think, exponentially, coordinated much more multilaterally to achieve any headway in ending the violence," said John Prendergast.

"The United States should establish a conflict resolution cell in the region that focuses not only on this conflict cluster, but also on another one - the damaging one that involves the Congo and northern Uganda and southern Sudan," he added.

The chairman of the Senate panel, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, has introduced a resolution calling for a comprehensive strategy to bring peace and stability to the region.

The measure would have the United States develop, fund and implement a plan to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian operations, contain and reduce violence and contribute conditions for sustainable peace in eastern Chad, Central African Republic, and Darfur, Sudan.

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