The UN Security Council voted to keep peacekeepers in Chad for at least another two months, but diplomats said the government is pressuring the world body to withdraw them.
A resolution approved by all 15 council members extends until May 15 the mandate of the force, which is known as MINURCAT and had a planned full deployment of 5 500 blue-helmeted troops and police.
Council diplomats said on condition of anonymity that they would work hard over the next two months to persuade Chadian President Idriss Deby to allow a slow withdrawal of the force to avoid jeopardizing a massive humanitarian aid operation in north eastern Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Deby asked the Security Council earlier this year not to renew the mandate of the border-monitoring mission, saying the force had not fully deployed and failed to protect civilians.
But the UN special envoy to Chad, Victor Angelo, said in February that the government of Chad had ultimately agreed to allow a two-month extension.
The United Nations argues that withdrawing too soon would leave refugees vulnerable and undermine humanitarian operations that provide food and other aid to hundreds of thousands of people.
One of the reasons for MINURCAT’s slow deployment is that some countries that offered troops did not have the proper equipment for their soldiers. That limited their ability to deal with the poor security situation in Chad and CAR.
Its main task is to secure humanitarian activities in Chad’s northeast, a region known for lawlessness and banditry. It was also supposed to build roads and other infrastructure projects, but some of those have not been realized, diplomats said.
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 CAR.
Some diplomats had interpreted Chad’s objection to the extension as an effort by the country to secure a weaker mandate for the force. Others said that Deby considers the presence of peacekeepers on his territory an embarrassment as he looks ahead to presidential elections in 2011.
Chad, a former French colony, is near the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, a composite benchmark that includes literacy rates, life expectancy and economic wealth measures.
A similar debate about the future of peacekeepers is underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the country has called for UN troops to pull out. Aid groups argue that such a move could be disastrous for civilians.
The 15-nation Security Council will ultimately decide how long the force remains, though it wants the government’s consent. Council members will travel to the Congo next month to discuss the future of blue helmets, most of whom are deployed in eastern Congo, with President Joseph Kabila.
Pic: UN Peacekeepers in Chad