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Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007 at 7:49 PM
Gen. Henri Bentegeat, chairman of the EU Military Committee, said Thursday the forces will be fully operational by the end of the year..."If we aren't welcome, we'll make ourselves welcome. If necessary by force," Bentegeat said, reiterating the EU forces will have a mandate allowing them to use violence if they see it fit.
Published: Nov. 16, 2007 at 10:37 AM
By LEANDER SCHAERLAECKENS
BRUSSELS, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- EU security forces are gearing up to assist NATO and African Union troops in securing refugee camps in eastern Chad and the Central African Republic that are home to millions fleeing the violence in Darfur.
The area, which borders Sudan's Darfur region, has been inundated with refugees. The United Nations estimates that at least 2 million people have been displaced and driven into neighboring countries such as Chad and the CAR; an estimated 200,000 people have been killed. The violence pits government-backed Arab militia -- known as Janjaweed -- against the local black population and rebels. Both ethnic groups are Muslim.
The AU and the NATO Response Force have been dispatched to protect these refugees from the Janjaweed militia, blamed for the bulk of the deaths. EU forces will serve primarily to support these troops logistically. A force of 4,300 soldiers, of which 600 will stay in Europe on reserve, will be dispatched for a year and should be arriving in the region in early December.
Gen. Henri Bentegeat, chairman of the EU Military Committee, said Thursday the forces will be fully operational by the end of the year. This deployment could be delayed, however, by the shortage of logistical commitments from the contributing nations.
"We have all the necessary maneuver units. What we're missing now is the means of transportation in the theater of operations, medical support and logistical assets," Bentegeat said.
The biggest deficiency is helicopters, for which the EU force will have to battle it out with NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Like the EU forces, ISAF has been pleading with EU member states that are contributing troops for more helicopters for their mission. Bentegeat expressed confidence the helicopters will be found in time.
The force, which will be anchored by Chad's former colonial ruler France, will also include a large contingent of Irish troops and delegations from Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands.
France's involvement, which is expected to number half the total troops, comes on the back of a diplomatic conflict with Chad over the arrest of six French employees of the non-governmental organization Zoe's Ark. The employees tried to fly 103 Chadian children to France and place them in foster care. The NGO's claim the children were orphans has been contested, however, and the six are now under arrest and suspected of kidnapping.
Violence in Darfur has frequently been spilling over into Chad and the CAR, and the EU forces' main preoccupation will be protecting the refugees from any more violence. They will also be ensuring that humanitarian aid and personnel can access the refugees unharmed.
Chadian Foreign Minister Ahmat Allam-mi has said Chad will welcome the EU forces, but the Sudanese government remains reluctant over foreign intrusion into its affairs.
"If we aren't welcome, we'll make ourselves welcome. If necessary by force," Bentegeat said, reiterating the EU forces will have a mandate allowing them to use violence if they see it fit.
The EU is confident its support will help the 24,500-strong African Union/NRF security forces stabilize once and for all the Darfur region. "We cannot underestimate the deterrent of a robust European army," Bentegeat said.
He also assured critics that this mission will not interfere with the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo where the EU could still treble its forces if necessary.
If the necessary helicopters aren't found, the deployment of the 3,700 troops could be delayed until January.
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