As the United Nations Security Council prepares for discussions this week on sending peacekeepers to eastern Chad, aid agencies working there are pressing the humanitarian need for rapid deployment, but observers in New York say significant political and logistical obstacles remain to getting boots on the ground.
Aid agencies have been complaining for months that frequent attacks on their staff and facilities in eastern Chad are making their work to help hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur and displaced Chadians impossible in some areas.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says fighting between Chadian rebels and the army has sometimes spilled over into the 12 refugee camps for people from Darfur. It has also accused the Chadian government of not doing enough to stop the camps from becoming militarised by rebel fighters crossing over from Darfur.
The rebellion has also “distracted” the army from protecting Chad’s 600km border with Sudan and stopping the violence there from spilling into Chad, aid workers say. Some 110,000 Chadian civilians in the east have fled attacks, including by the Sudanese Janjawid militia, in the past year, according to the UNHCR.
A third dynamic that human rights analysts and aid workers say they are still struggling to understand is worsening inter-communal violence between different ethnic groups in the region.
Humanitarians at risk
UNHCR said earlier this month that “rampant insecurity” in eastern Chad is “wreaking havoc” on humanitarian activities.
And James Morris, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) told IRIN on Friday that the agency’s regular convoys through Libya to the north of Chad to distribution centres in Abeche are at risk because of attacks on its staff and convoys.
“We’ve had at least three convoys recently attacked,” Morris said. “We’ve had people put at risk; our food is at risk. This is a place that is very insecure. When we ask people to do the distribution and the transportation, they are putting their lives at risk.”
WFP in Chad currently feeds over 30,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), 230,000 Darfur refugees in 12 camps, in addition to 55,000 Chadian school children and 10,000 other high-risk Chadians.
“The violence has accelerated in Chad. I know that our convoys have been at risk and we do need help protecting them… peacekeepers are generally a good thing,” Morris said.
The British aid agency Oxfam, which runs water and sanitation projects in eastern Chad, said in a statement released on Thursday that “priority must be given” to the protection of Chadian civilians caught up in the conflict.
|Map of Chad, showing the eastern aid hub Abeche|
Some 110,000 Chadian civilians in the east have fled their homes in the past year, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), more than half of those in the last six months.
Displaced people say they fled their homes because of attacks from Janjawid militia fighters crossing into Chad from Sudan to loot villages, but more recently displacement has been caused by fighting between ethnic groups inside Chad.
Aid workers say they are struggling to understand the reasons behind the fighting between Chadians.
But UNHCR has compared the inter-communal violence to that seen in Rwanda in the 1990s, where 800,000 people were killed in just a few months of ethnic violence orchestrated by members of the government.
“Any international force deployed to Chad will need to direct its focus to the safety and security of the Sudanese refugees, Chadian displaced people and local communities to put an end to further attacks on civilian populations,” Oxfam said.
“Actions to stop violence against civilians must be taken swiftly and decisively,” the statement said.
Oxfam said it is “struggling” to keep pace with the rapid influx of Chadians displaced by the inter-communal fighting in the region.
“Animal and human waste is scattered throughout the areas where displaced Chadians have settled, and children walk with bare feet,” Oxfam’s statement said.
The UN Security Council has been considering sending peacekeepers to Chad since last November when it asked the UN to send an assessment mission to Chad, Sudan and CAR to the south, which has also suffered from a spill-over of fighting.
The November mission concluded Chad’s government and the rebel groups there needed to reach a peace agreement before peacekeepers could go in. But in January the Security Council demanded another assessment.
The report from that mission is expected to be ready by Monday.
Britain’s Security Council representative, Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, said he recognised the urgent humanitarian need for military support, and said the UN has a “responsibility” to help protect civilians there.
Britain is one of the five powerful permanent members of the Security Council (P5) with the power to veto any resolution.
“The plight of those living in Chad and north-eastern CAR, in particular those in IDP and refugee camps, is getting worse and worse as violence from Darfur spills over the border,” Parry told IRIN on Friday.
“The Secretary-General's recommendations on the options available to the UN are expected soon. The Security Council should respond urgently. If a UN mission can help to provide the protection that is needed, we would support it,” Parry said.
Britain was one of the main backers of the first attempt at getting peacekeepers on the ground in Chad in November and December last year.
Obstacles in New York
While the humanitarian need for rapid action has been clearly laid out, Colin Keating, head of the Security Council Report think-tank in New York, said hammering out the logistics and politics of a mission will be challenging.
“There is a sense that if the Council were going to do this, it needs to do it properly,” he said.
“If you are going to make the camps in Chad safe areas, you have to go with enough forces to do it properly,” Keating added, pointing to a previous UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in 1995 as an example of a humanitarian protection mission that failed because of lack of capacity.
“There is a willingness to go ahead with something, but it remains to be seen whether the troop contributors will come forward to do the job,” he said.
UN officials involved in the assessment for the peacekeeping operation have said the envisaged role of the force would focus on protecting civilians, not keeping apart rebels and the army.
But Keating said maintaining the UN’s neutrality would still be difficult as it could be seen as implicitly supporting the government.
“More than just saying ‘we should save these people’ [the Council will ask] how are we going to make an effort to facilitate peace negotiations with the rebels and the government? In the absence of a peace process it would be difficult being there in an environment that would be contested,” he said.
According to Keating, when the UN’s assessment report is presented to the Security Council, this political dimension could have been overlooked because of “disarray” in the UN Secretariat’s Department of Political Affairs while incoming Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finalises key high-level appointments.
A further challenge could come from Chad’s President Idriss Deby. A non-Western member of the Security Council, who did not want to be named, said Chad’s president could block the UN’s plans by haggling over the number and composition of the force.
Deby urged the UN to send peacekeepers several times last year, most recently in December. But news reports say his attitude is “no longer clear”.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions