UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for nearly doubling the number of international troops deployed to eastern Chad.
UN peacekeepers, expected to replace the European Union force (EUFOR) due to leave in March 2009, would have a similar mandate of protecting displaced civilians and aid workers in the increasingly volatile region.
Humanitarian agencies have been forced to suspend some of their operations in eastern Chad over the last few months after violent attacks on staff.
Ban is proposing that 6,000 UN peacekeepers replace the 3,700 EUFOR troops currently in the region.
A military team from New York was recently in Chad to discuss the peacekeeping mission with authorities. The Chadian government has told the UN Security Council that it does not need a higher number of international troops. A decision on the peacekeeping force is expected in early 2009.
“Our military experts believe we require a sizeable force,” Victor Angelo, the UN Special Representative to Chad, told IRIN in the capital Ndjamena. “Take into consideration the types of threats, their unpredictability, and also that the territory to be covered is very vast.”
In 2008 alone there have been more than 120 attacks on humanitarian workers, including car-jackings, robberies and four killings, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Some 285,000 Sudanese refugees and 180,000 displaced Chadians (IDPs) live in eastern Chad – 130,000 of them in the Dar Sila and Salamat areas around Goz Beida to the southeast, where EUFOR’s Multinational Battalion South, or MBS, works.
One of MBS's responsibilities is to patrol the perimeters of the four IDP sites close to Goz Beida, where residents say they are regularly attacked by animal herders and men on horses when they go out to work in their fields.
“A few days ago the children went out and they were beaten by men riding camels. Now the children are scared,” said Rakia Hissin, who lives in Gasire IDP camp in the Goz Beida region. But she added she does feel safer since EUFOR arrived. “When we see the patrols we feel more at ease.”
An MBS member said more troops would help. “In an ideal world it would be better to have more troops”, Lieutenant Colonel Kiernan Brennan, MBS commander, told IRIN. “Currently I’m focusing on the Sudanese border, so it would help to increase the security towards the southwest where I’m not able to reach.”
Aid workers said insecurity remains a considerable threat in the eastern region and that the lack of a police force is a major problem. “EUFOR is not a police force and the main threat here for NGOs is banditry,” said Judith Sarano from Oxfam GB. “We need to have a real and effective police and judicial system to arrest these people."
EUFOR was supposed to be accompanied by a Chadian military and civilian police force, trained by the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, or MINURCAT. But to date only a handful of the proposed 850 security officers known as ‘Détachement intégré de sécurité’ (DIS) have been deployed.
“We have been slow and I should say that MINURCAT has to improve the pace,” UN representative Angelo told IRIN, “I believe that when we have our military police [DIS] in place that will complement what EUFOR is doing on a military scene.”
As part of the increase in troop numbers, Angelo has recommended a rapid reaction reserve battalion be installed in the major eastern town of Abeche to support patrolling troops.