(AFP) – Dec 31, 2007
NDJAMENA (AFP) — French Defence Minister Herve Morin said Monday that he hoped European Union peacekeeping troops will deploy to protect refugees in Chad and the Central African Republic "in the month of January."
Morin told French troops already based in Chad, at Kossei near Ndjamena airport, that he "hopes with all my heart" the long planned EUFOR deployment will now go ahead after being delayed since November.
EUFOR Chad-CAR is a multinational European military mission tasked with the protection of hundreds of thousands of war refugees from Sudan's Darfur region in the two neighbouring countries, along with people displaced by internal insurgency.
"By way of this mission, which will unite three to four thousand troops, we will show that a defence-minded Europe means more than words (...) and has a real capacity to carry out military operations with a growing and robust range of means," Morin said.
Some 234,000 Darfur refugees, along with 178,000 displaced eastern Chadians and 43,000 Central Africans also uprooted by strife and rebellion in the north of their country, are housed in camps in the region, where many remain at risk because of insurgency.
Both Chad and the CAR have agreed to the deployment of a force to be led on the ground by France and entrusted with protecting these vulnerable people and the aid agencies who assist them.
French troops would have a "considerable job" and "a major role to play", Morin said, since they were to help contingents "for whom Africa isn't a natural theatre of operations", from Sweden, the Baltic states, Finland, Poland and Ireland.
France has itself pledged at least 1,350 men, but the mission still needs four aircraft and nine transport helicopters, a French military source said.
Morin was making a two-day visit to the region and planned to celebrate New Year's Eve with the French troops permanently stationed in eastern Chad's main town, Abeche, after talks there with Chad's President Idriss Deby.
On Tuesday, he was due to head for Birao in the northeast of the CAR, where France this year provided direct military aid to help President Francois Bozize put down an insurgency, then meet the CAR head of state in the capital Bangui.
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