CHAD: Thoughts on the pending EU/UN mission from UN's top humanitarian official

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Aid organisations are struggling to provide assistance to around half a million people in the east of Chad at a time when numerous rebel groups are launching offensives against the army.

The EU was supposed to have started deploying troops to the east at this time to protect humanitarian operations and civilian populations and the UN was supposed to send police trainers to ensure security within the various communities. But the arrival of these international security forces has been delayed.

IRIN spoke with the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative in Chad Kingsley Amaning about the current situation. The following are excerpts:

Are you disappointed that the international forces have not arrived yet?

Certainly. We are unhappy that the international forces are late in their deployment. While we are waiting we are witness to combatants on both sides being massacred on the area boarding Sudan. Reports from the east indicate that the clashes between the government forces and the rebel groups were very bloody. And all this is occurring in the 21st century.

In fact we had warned that if we do not have security measures in place by the end of the rainy season [October] we were likely to see a new round of fighting which would impact on our humanitarian services. It has happened every year [since 2005] except that this year the fighting is even worse.

We were counting on the international community to come on time and now it seems they would not be able to come until January at the earliest. If the international presence had been in place [the government and rebels] would have likely been forestalled, as both sides would have taken such international elements into account.

Why did the EU and UN delay?

I believe they are facing many logistical problems but before deploying they are having to look at the rapidly evolving situation [with the latest fighting]. In the last couple of weeks we have seen four and may be five fronts open up between the army and various rebel groups in
the east.

Yet as far as the delivery of international aid to the population in the east is concerned it is not the fighting between the army and the rebels that are the problem but rather banditry?

The military operations exacerbated the banditry. The regime [in Chad], like in all developing countries, has a limited capacity to defend itself. And so in the period of war its ability to protect [civilians and humanitarian operations] against banditry becomes even weaker. The plan is for the UN mission [MINURCAT] to reinforce the capacity of the Chadian police and gendarmes while the regime is busy defending itself.

So no one will stop the rebels and the army from fighting?

From what we know, that is not in the MINURCAT’s mandate. Currently according to the Security Council resolution, MINURCAT’s mandate is to strengthen the government capacity to provide civil protection to all vulnerable groups living in the areas of humanitarian operations. The government once wanted all [230,000 Sudanese] refugees in the east moved to the centre of the country because it said it was incapable of protecting them in the war zone. The alternative proposed to the government by the international community was to maintain them in the areas where they were and reinforce the government’s capacity to protect them there..

But is the UN strong enough to stop the various warring parties from attacking civilians and aid groups?

For the moment the aid groups do not appear to constitute targets for any of the parties at war, which is why the humanitarian community has only asked for a small but effective police force. I am not an expert on these matters but we have been persuaded that a military force would also be needed. That is to be the role of EUFOR [the European force]. It will protect MINURCAT. At the moment aid workers have had to contend with an ever shrinking humanitarian space in which to operate as new war fronts are opening up all over the east and banditry is on the increase.

The refugee camps have not been targets in the fighting so far but are you afraid that EUFOR could become a target, particularly as it will have many French troops who have aided the army in fighting the rebels?

If EUFOR is recognized by all the parties concerned to be politically neutral in the conflict there is no reason for it to be a target. We, the humanitarians, insist on being recognised as such and it would be helpful to us if EUFOR is perceived in the same light. This is a huge challenge that we should all strive to meet. In any case it is MINURCAT which will be closely associated with humanitarian workers and not EUFOR. EUFOR will be responsible for securing the zone outside of the areas of [humanitarian] operations. I believe that this is being worked out between EUFOR, MINURCAT and UN’s humanitarian offices in New York.

Do you worry about what will happen when EUFOR arrives?

There is a lot to hope for but there is also a lot of anxiety regarding when EUFOR will deploy and under which circumstances.

And it must be a worry that if EUFOR becomes a target then humanitarians could also become a target?

I can only hope that this does not happen. For the moment neither the rebels nor the army have directly threatened humanitarians and I really do not see that changing. All sides profess their belief in humanitarian principles and that is a good sign.

Source: IRIN