For humanitarian officials in Chad a revised UN plan for a peacekeeping mission in the east of the country raises more questions than it answers regarding its mandate, rules of engagement and, most importantly, whether it will help or hinder ongoing relief operations in the area.
The plan was proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 10 August.
“Certainly I am pleased that there is a new [international] commitment to have a force as the government’s capacity to provide security is almost non-existent,” the UN humanitarian coordinator for Chad, Kingsley Amaning, told IRIN.
“But now let’s see how the commitment translates into action,” he added.
The first aim of the mission – which Ban’s report calls a “multidimensional UN presence in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic” – would be to assist in protecting civilians, which in Chad include 236,000 Sudanese refugees and 170,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to the report.
“One big question is how well the mission will be able to maintain neutrality,” Amaning said. “It needs to be organised so that the rebels see it as being independent and deployed exclusively for humanitarian purposes.”
Ban calls for the force to be under the European Union (EU) flag for a preliminary 12 months after which a possible “UN successor operation” would take its place.
After Chadian President Idriss Deby rejected a plan for a UN force in 2006, France, the former colonial power which already has a military base in Chad, came up with the current EU-led proposal.
In July, EU nations agreed to start planning for a possible 3,000-strong mission and an EU-led fact finding mission is expected to arrive in Chad in late August.
Some rebel groups have reportedly already rejected the idea of an EU force which they associate with France. French troops based in the Chadian capital, N’djamena, were perceived as having been instrumental in halting an attempt to invade N’djamena by one rebel group in April 2006 (although that group has since formed an alliance with the government).
“If the EU is seen as partisan and rebel groups take them on we could see Europeans working in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) caught in the cross fire,” Amaning said. “[Those drafting the mission] need to prepare the mandate very carefully and clearly so there is no suspicion.”
He and other humanitarian officials IRIN spoke to in Chad all expressed another concern with the new mission plan: It states that it would have “no direct involvement… in the border area [between eastern Chad and the Darfur region of Sudan]”.
The humanitarian officials say that would make it difficult for the force to assist tens of thousands of the most vulnerable people who are living along the border.
One official said the UN plan to keep international troops away from the border was a way to appease President Deby, who had rejected an earlier plan saying it would undermine his country’s sovereignty.
Furthermore, relations between Chad and Sudan have soured with President Deby having positioned many of his troops along the border to halt Chadian rebels who he alleges are being supported by Sudan and using Sudan as a rear base. In April, Chadian troops crossed into Sudan and engaged the Sudanese army.
But one possible consequence of having an international force that does not protect the border, according to one humanitarian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is that “as soon as displaced people realise that they are not in an internationally protected area there could be a sudden and spontaneous population movement which could create a logistical nightmare.”
The point that Amaning and other humanitarian officials made to IRIN was not that the international force should secure the border, only that it should help provide security for civilians living on the border.
The good news, said Amaning, is that the border itself is not the main cause of the humanitarian problems in the area, disputing a widely held view that the violence in eastern Chad is more a spill-over from neighbouring Darfur region in Sudan than a home grown armed conflict. “No. The problem [of mass displacement] is mostly a result of violence from within the borders [of eastern Chad],” he said.
“It’s just that we think it is a mistake to define any geographical area [in eastern Chad] where an international force can or cannot go,” Amaning said.
Who provides security?
The third new point in Ban’s revised plan was that the international force should provide only “wide-area security” while Chadian police and gendarmes would do the work of “maintaining law and order inside the refugee camps and IDP sites”.
Several international officials in Chad told IRIN that people in eastern Chad have lost confidence in the Chadian security forces’ will to protect them.
Ban’s proposal calls for the creation of a special Chadian force “made up of police officers and gendarmes who would be screened, selected, trained and supported logistically and materially by the UN presence”.
But the larger question is whether Chadian security forces can be seen as neutral in the midst of what is a complex armed conflict - part international, part civil war and part inter-communal fighting.
“The international troops may find themselves standing in the middle of a conflict they don’t understand,” said one official. “How can they interrupt it? How can they get people talking to each other?”
Yet despite the misgivings, the humanitarian officials IRIN spoke with agreed that the international presence is needed. “We have asked for [an international protection force] for over a year now,” Amaning said. “Our major concern is that there has been nothing so far and security is deteriorating.”
“And we are still waiting for the peacekeepers to materialise.”
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