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CHAD: European force "blocked" for now

NDJAMENA, 5 December 2007 (IRIN) - The 4,500-strong European force expected to start arriving in Chad and the Central African Republic in November to protect aid workers and some 500,000 displaced civilians is on hold for now. The force, known as EUFOR, currently consists of 23 military personnel holed up in a hotel in Chad's capital N'djamena, 700 km west of the conflict zone.

"The process [of launching the force] has been blocked for the moment," EUFOR spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Poulain told IRIN on 4 December. "EU countries have not agreed on who should provide the equipment we need to get started and they are no longer even having what we call 'force-generating' conferences to discuss the matter," he said.

"Things must first be worked out at the highest [presidential and ministerial] level before we can have another force-generating conference to discuss how to get the force up and running," he said, adding that even if next week EU countries were to agree on providing the necessary equipment the force could not properly launch before January.

In the meantime conditions in the east have deteriorated markedly in the past week with heavy clashes between the Chadian army and rebel groups that have left an estimated 1,000 combatants dead or wounded.

Banditry is also on the increase, including attacks on aid workers. The latest occurred on 3 December on a UN World Food Programme convoy travelling to the refugee camp at Breidjing.

For EUFOR to get started it needs airplanes, helicopters and a field hospital, Poulain said. "These are expensive assets that no country so far has been willing to give."

EUFOR has yet to begin building its bases in the east. "Even the precise locations have not even been decided," he said. "It will partly depend on where we can find bore water."

The plan is for the bases to be near areas where large populations of Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians are camped, he said, adding, "though we know the bases will remain on the periphery."

Policing of the sites will be the job of a new UN Mission for the Central African Republic and Chad known as MINURCAT. But the mission, which will consist of only police and unarmed military observers, also has yet to begin operating as EUFOR is to protect it.

Currently the 23 EUFOR personnel in N'djamena depend on a French force based in Chad for decades codenamed 'Epervier'. "We currently have to use Epervier transport to travel to the east," Poulain said. "We even have to go to their base for meals."

The French force under a cooperation agreement provides support to the Chadian military, while the mandate of EUFOR is to remain strictly neutral.

Poulain said that as soon as EU countries agree on who will provide the equipment the force needs, ground troops from Epervier will be put under the command of EUFOR. "That will speed up the launch," he said.




Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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