With 400 Irish troops set to deploy to Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) next month, confusion and looming violence threaten to undermine the almost-4000-strong EU force (EUFOR), writes Simon Roughneen
“I will be there in uniform, without arms, with a UN logo. The EU will be there with arms, with the EU logo. The French [troops stationed in Chad for more than two decades and who support Chadian President Idriss Déby] will be there, with the same uniforms as the French working for the EU, but with a French logo, and with a different interest, etc., etc.”
This from Lieutenant-Colonel Jan Vall, deputy chief of the military liaison officers of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), which was set up under the same UN Security Council resolution that mandated the EU to send what is a priori a refugee protection force to these remote and desolate central African countries.
A quick trawl of NGO websites shows a fresh recruitment drive for PR and information personnel needed in Chad, as aid agencies fret about how distinguish themselves from EUFOR and the new UN mission, not to mention the 1200 French soldiers there on a bilateral basis, supporting Chad’s unelected and unpopular President in a civil war that is fast turning into a full-blown international conflict between Chad and Sudan.
The Zoe’s Ark scandal last year, when that French aid agency sought to relocate Darfurian orphans to France, has added to NGO worries that all westerners mat be tarnished with politically-awkward brushes.
And into the mix go almost 400 Irish troops, and the mission is headed by Ireland’s Lieutenant-General Pat Nash – who will be based in Paris. Already Chadian rebels fightting the Deby regime have threatened to fight EUFOR, depicting the Europeans as intervening in a Chadian fight to the advantage of the incumbent President
EUFOR is going to Chad to protect around 200,000 Darfurian refugees who have fled the depredations of the Janjaweed, after five years of fighting and an estimated 200,000-400,000 deaths. Regardless of good intentions, deploying almost 4000 well-equipped European soldiers to a former French colony, now in the midst of a war, cannot but have strategic implications.
In April 2006, Chadian rebels drove hundreds of armed pick-up trucks hundreds of miles across their arid country, only to be driven from the outskirts of N’djamena by Chadian regular forces backed by French special forces and fighter jets. As Lt-Col Vall points out, it is very difficult to tell pre-positioned French troops from their French EUFOR counterparts, which of course has implications for the Polish, Swedish, Austrian and Irish contingents in Chad with EUFOR as well, not least as EUFOR is Irish-led
Adding to the strategic powderkeg is a recent excalation of tension – and real fighting- between Chad and Sudan. Chad supports Darfurian rebels, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which has its powerbase among the Zaghawa tribe, whose homeland sits either side of the international border dividing Sudan from Chad. Chad’s own President is Zaghawa, and after initially refusing to incur Khartoum’s wrath by supporting rebels in Darfur, by 2005 was forced to heed the siren call of kith and kin.
In turn, the various Chadian rebel groups that so audaciously attempted to storm N’djamena almost 2 years ago are armed and funded by Sudan, and have bases in Darfur, where they mix freely with the Sudanese Army and its fearsome Janjaweed proxy.
During December and January just gone, JEM and the Sudanese Army have fought numerous times in western Darfur, and in a notable escalation, Chadian warplanes flew bombing raids into western Darfur to support JEM ground attacks
Khartoum doubtless sees EUFOR as another western-driven step to curbing its strategic ambitions. With 10,000 UN peacekeepers in Christian South Sudan since a 2005 peace deal there, and a new UN-African Union force (UNAMID) in Darfur since January 1, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) feels surrounded physically, as well as politically, as that 2005 deal with the South mandates national elections for 2009, and the potential secesssion of oil-rich Sudan in 2011. The NCP would likely lose those elections, pending the big if that these be free and fair.
Most likely the NCP will find reasons to delay or scuttle these polls in advance. If conflict continues in Darfur, or if the NCP goes back to war with South Sudan, then elections cannot proceed, and the NCP can stay in power and retain access to the oil money. EU troops in nearby Chad might well get caught up in this complex situation, and Irish troops will find it hard to dissociate themselves from vested interests, given that France is not a neutral player in Chad.Show