Rights group Amnesty International urged Chad to reverse its decision to order UN troops out of the country, warning that their departure would put hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, has asked the UN Security Council not to renew the mandate of the MINURCAT border monitoring mission in the east of the country. He said earlier this week the force had not fully deployed and was unable to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians.
“Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians would be exposed to increased attacks by Chadian armed opposition groups, irregular militias, criminal gangs and members of the Chadian security forces, if MINURCAT were to leave,” said Tawanda Hondora, an Africa expert at Amnesty.
Earlier this week, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said Chad’s request was “regrettable” and denied the mission had been a failure. He noted that some 70% of MINURCAT’s authorized full strength had now been deployed.
The mandate of MINURCAT lapses in mid-March. The blue helmet force, which has an authorized full strength of over 5500 troops and police, began deploying in March 2009, when UN-commanded troops took over from a European Union force.
MINURCAT is responsible for ensuring security for humanitarian actions, particularly in the northeast of Chad, which borders Sudan’s conflict-torn western Darfur region.
Amnesty International said attacks on humanitarian workers and civilians reached alarming levels in the final months of 2009 but had been falling as MINURCAT soldiers had been able to carry out patrols in sensitive areas.
The group said MINURCAT’s presence was needed because Chad had failed to meet its obligation to protect people.
“The Chadian government has the responsibility and duty to protect its own population and other persons living on its territory, but for many years it has shown itself incapable and unwilling to do so with respect to eastern Chad,” Hondora said.
Violence in Darfur erupted in early 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels began fighting the Sudanese government and Khartoum responded by mobilizing militia to quell the uprising. The United Nations estimates the ensuing conflict claimed up to 300 000 lives and drove 2 million people from their homes.
Khartoum says 10 000 people died in the conflict.
UN officials say they have been trying to persuade Chadian officials to allow the blue helmets to stay but the government has refused to relent.
Representatives from several aid agencies told Reuters they were very worried about what the departure of MINURCAT would mean for their humanitarian operations along Chad’s border.
Pic: UN peackeepers in Chad