Groups Discuss Peacekeepers for Africa

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

UNITED NATIONS – The European Union and the United Nations are discussing the possibility of sending an EU peacekeeping force to Chad and Central African Republic for six months to help those affected by the spillover from the Darfur conflict, U.N. diplomats said Friday.

The U.N. Security Council discussed the idea of an interim EU force, which would be replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force, during closed consultations following a briefing by U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno.

The idea was raised Wednesday by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a meeting with the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana, according to a report in the French Roman Catholic newspaper La Croix.

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“We talked about the possibility of rapidly deploying _ in cooperation with the president of Chad _ an interim EU force that would protect refugee camps in Chad, while awaiting the deployment of a U.N. police force,” Solana was quoted as saying.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said France’s aim is by the end of July to put on the table in Europe and the U.N. “the elements for a decision, with the agreement of Chad.”

The four-year conflict between ethnic African rebels and pro-government janjaweed militia in Sudan’s vast western Darfur region has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million. A 7,000-member African Union force has been unable to stop the fighting.

The conflict has spilled over into Chad and Central African Republic, which also have faced attacks from rebels in their own countries.

After visiting the region, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said in April that an international security presence was essential to protect the displaced in Chad. He also called for better protection of Central African Republic’s borders.

“The discussion at the moment is focused on whether or not there can be a commitment to put a U.N. force in to take over from the Europeans,” said Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador Karen Pierce, who said her country supports the French initiative.

“It’s an early stage and details are still being worked out,” she said. “There isn’t at the moment a commitment from the U.N. to take over from the EU, and the EU is clear that it wants to go into Chad only on the basis of that commitment.”

Guehenno, who briefed the council, expressed hope that the U.N.-EU discussions “would address the very challenging humanitarian situation in eastern Chad and the north of the Central African Republic.”

Guehenno said he would be going to Brussels early next week to brief European Union ambassadors council on the issue.

He said the preliminary concept calls for a U.N. resolution authorizing an EU military force as well as a U.N. mission with a strong police component that would help beef up specialized Chadian forces to address the security situation in camps for refugees and the internally displaced.

A draft resolution circulated Wednesday that would authorize a 26,000-strong African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force for Darfur reiterates the council’s readiness to consider deploying a U.N. mission to eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)