Chad has accepted a UN proposal to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force in the West African country until May 15, the UN Secretary General’s special representative said.
That gives the 5000-strong mission known as MINURCAT an extra two months after the force’s mandate to secure aid for hundreds of thousands of refugees is due to expire. UN diplomats said they hoped to use that time to work out a plan for a longer term “phased withdrawal” of the force.
Chadian President Idriss Deby had said he wants MINURCAT to leave the country, while the UN says withdrawing it would endanger refugees and civilians and humanitarian efforts.
“We had a meeting (on Monday) with the president and later with the prime minister, and we have agreed that there will be an extension of two months until May 15,” Victor Angelo told Reuters by telephone from Chad.
During the coming two months, MINURCAT and the government will jointly plan next steps, “with the understanding that there will be a serious reduction of military presence,” Angelo said.
“The door is open for the continuation of the mission as long as we can agree on configuration,” he said.
Any UN proposal would have to be approved by the Security Council, which is in charge of peacekeeping mandates.
MINURCAT’s task is to secure humanitarian activities in the northeast of Chad, a region known for lawlessness and banditry.
UN officials say there are about half a million refugees in the area, half of them from the violence-torn Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan and the rest from Chad and the Central African Republic.
Security Council diplomats in New York say that a “phased withdrawal” of MINURCAT would ensure there was no sudden departure of the force, which would jeopardize the security of displaced people and humanitarian aid workers.
That phased withdrawal would ideally begin after the technical two-month rollover of the mandate and would take many months to be completed, diplomats say.
Deby asked the Security Council not to renew the mandate of the border monitoring mission in the turbulent east, saying the force had not fully deployed and failed to protect civilians.
Chad’s UN Ambassador Ahmad Allam-mi said last month there was a “new context” in the region, with ties between his country and Sudan improving.
MINURCAT, 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.
Pic: A wrecked Mil 24/25 attack helicopter in UN colours photographed in eastern Chad