With pressure from France, Chad and Sudan open door to possible troop deployment

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

President Idriss Déby of Chad.
Image: Brian Smithson.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

After meeting Sunday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Chadian President Idriss Déby opened the door to the possible deployment of United Nations (UN) or European Union (EU) troops to Chad's volatile eastern region. Yesterday, Kouchner met with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

Until Sunday, Chad had rejected the idea of allowing military troops in to assist with security at its border with Sudan. In Chad's eastern region, the government has been fighting an insurgency, which it claims has been supported by Sudan. While dealing with the insurgency, Chad had been amenable to an international police presence, but not a military force.

An estimated 234,000 Sudanese refugees have fled the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan and crossed the border into Chad. In addition, Chad is coping with an estimated 150,000 internally displaced persons. The conditions in the camps set up to deal with the refugees have been criticised as inadequate by the aid group, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Refugee camp in Chad.
Image: Mark Knobil.

France's newly appointed foreign minister, and co-founder of MSF, Bernard Kouchner, and Chad's President Déby were able to work out some concessions on the use of foreign troops. Following the meeting, Déby was asked by reporters whether he would allow UN or EU military troops to take a role in security and stabilization measures for a humanitarian mission. "Why not," Déby replied.

Déby revealed that plans for an international force for Chad would be made public by the end of June. "We are agreed on the principle of deploying a force, but there are still some points to resolve, on which we must agree," said Déby. "The results of the discussions will be made public before the 25th of this month."

"We have been proposing this to the international community since 2004," said Déby. But Chad's Prime Minister, Delwa Kassiré Koumakoye, commented recently that neighbouring countries may take the use of foreign troops as a threat.

On June 9, MSF issued a press release warning of a humanitarian crisis developing in Chad. "It is imperative that the emergency in eastern Chad be fully recognised, that aid organisations provide massive, immediate aid to the IDPs and that the Chadian authorities facilitate humanitarian aid," said Isabelle Defourny, manager of MSF programmes in Chad.

Progress in Sudan

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
Image: Photographic Dept. of the Prime Minister.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Following his visit to Chad, Foreign Minister Kouchner traveled to Sudan where he met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Sudan has, in the past, rejected the deployment of an international force, and has resisted the use of a UN-African Union (AU) force. During their meeting Monday, al-Bashir told Kouchner that he would only accept troops from Africa.

Kouchner indicated that his meetings with al-Bashir and other officials had been productive and would "lift a certain number of complications" in obtaining agreements with Sudan. He and al-Bashir also discussed the unilateral sanctions imposed on Sudan by the United States. Kouchner felt that the sanctions haven't been useful and that the Sudanese "seem clearly affected by this issue, considering how much they raised it."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed some optimism on the issue of troop deployment and acknowledged he received a letter recently from al-Bashir on the matter. As stated in the letter, al-Bashir has accepted in principal the idea of a UN-AU force of 23,000 troops to be stationed in Darfur. "I sincerely hope that we will be able to have early resolution of this issue," said Ban.

One roadblock may be al-Bashir's refusal to accept any force other than African. The UN and AU stated they would attempt to use only African troops, but indicated that non-African troops may be used if that were not possible.

"Darfur cannot be only an African problem," said Kouchner. "At a certain level, the respect for human rights concerns the whole world."

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