UN force in Chad and Central Africa lacks troops, helicopters, Ban says

The United Nations peacekeeping force protecting refugees and other civilians in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) has reached less than half its authorised troop strength, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says.
“I urge Member States to provide the missing force personnel and enablers, particularly night-capable military helicopters, to ensure the Mission can implement its mandate without constraint,” he wrote in a report to the Security Council made public overnight.
The UN News Service notes the report says deployment now stands at 2,000 troops, less than 50 per cent of the 5,200 authorized by the Security Council for the mission known as MINURCAT, even though it took over security responsibilities in the area from European forces on 15 March.
Even given the deficit, however, Ban expects that the force will reach full strength by the end of this year, but says there remain serious difficulties in generating equipment, with only 6 military helicopters pledged out of the requested 18.
In the report, the Secretary-General also renews his appeal to Chad and Sudan to improve their relations. Such progress, he says, will go along way to ease the security and humanitarian situation in Sudan`s war-torn Darfur region and eastern Chad, which are closely interlinked.
Eastern Chad faces an acute humanitarian challenge with over 290 000 Sudanese refugees from the Darfur conflict, more than 180 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and a further 700 000 individuals among host communities in need of food, water and health care.
Northern CAR has also been affected by a spill-over from the Darfur conflict as well as by other armed groups.
In January, the Security Council approved the deployment of 5500 blue helmets – 300 police officers, 25 military liaison officers in addition to the 5200 military personnel.
MINURCAT took over the military and security responsibilities of European forces (EUFOR), which had been in place since March 2008, last month.
In its resolution, the Security Council stressed that MINURCAT is intended to help create the security conditions conducive to a voluntary, secure and sustainable return of refugees and IDPs by boosting civilian protection, facilitating the provision of humanitarian aid, and promoting reconstruction, human rights and development.
A key component of its security efforts is supporting the development of the Chadian community police, or Détachement Intégré de Sécurité (DIS) deployed in eastern Chad.
The recently completed training of the 850 authorized DIS personnel and their deployment to eastern Chad “is a tangible achievement which will contribute to the creation of a more secure environment for the refugees, internally displaced persons and vulnerable populations in the area,” Ban says.
He appealed to donors to continue to provide the necessary financial support to the Trust Fund for DIS and also to extend support to rule of law programmes that complement DIS activities, adding that the viability of transferring such responsibilities to the Government of Chad would be studied in the near future.
The report also provides an overview of recent political developments in Chad and CAR, including the mobilization of armed opposition groups in Chad against the country`s president, Idriss Déby Itno.
In CAR, from 8 to 20 December 2008, a political dialogue took place between the Government and major political and military groups, followed by the January 2009 signing of a decree, by President François Bozizé, establishing a new government.
“However, the political, security and socio-economic situation remains fragile,” Mr. Ban cautioned.
In a related development, 18 relief projects – which range from providing life-saving drugs and supporting rape victims – in the CAR have received a boost from the UN, as part of its multi-million dollar Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), set up last year.
According to Jean-Sébastien Munié, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the country, one of the world`s poorest, said that the CHF allows the highest-priority underfunded sectors to receive support.
“This has helped compensate for unequal funding between sectors in our humanitarian appeal,” he added.
A new allocation announced today will give the CHF an additional reserve so that aid agencies can respond to emergencies at short notice, OCHA said.