Chad has told the United Nations peacekeeping mission to withdraw its soldiers and civilians, and wants a timetable for ending a deployment which the government never fully accepted, diplomats said.
President Idriss Deby is thought to view the presence of the international force, which has yet to achieve its full strength, as an encroachment on sovereign territory, and an unwelcome form of international attention.
A high-level UN team is in Chad for talks but the diplomats said there was no scope for re-negotiating the mission’s mandate, which runs out in March.
It was not immediately clear how long the withdrawal, which for practical reasons would also end the force’s presence in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR), would take.
“There is a (Chadian) political imperative for a withdrawal. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, it will be a withdrawal,” one diplomat following the situation closely told Reuters.
Chad said earlier this month that it had written to the UN asking it not to renew the mandate, which expires on March 15.
Some diplomats had interpreted this as an effort by Chad to secure a weaker mandate for the force, which is tasked with protecting civilians and aid workers caught up in a conflict zone in eastern Chad and northern CAR.
“There is no question of that (changing the mandate),” said another diplomat, who also asked not to be named. “The Chadians are demanding a calendar for the retreat. It will not be long.”
The UN, which took over the peacekeeping role from the European Union last year, is mandated to have about 5000 soldiers in the country.
However, the force is still deploying and there are just over 3000 personnel in country. Estimates for the withdrawal ranged from three months to as long as a year.
The team from the UN headquarters in New York is in N’djamena discussing with the authorities whether the withdrawal of troops will be immediate or gradual.
Due to the logistical complexities of operating in the isolated central African region, a consequence of the Chad withdrawal will be an end to the force’s presence in CAR too.
“The UN can’t operate in a country that doesn’t want them. But it also means a withdrawal from CAR,” the first diplomat said.
An estimated 200 000 refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region are in eastern Chad, where they have faced attacks by militias, conscription by rebels and rape, according rights groups.
Civilians in CAR’s north have also been caught up in simmering local rebellions, as well as the broader regional conflict, in which analysts say Chad and Sudan have used each other’s rebels to fight a proxy war.
Pic: UN vehicles departing Goz Beida region in Chad