French send in 200 troops to stabilise Chad border

Meera Selva
Monday 10 October 2011 04:40

French troops are being deployed along the border between Chad and Sudan to prevent Arab militias spreading the violence that has plagued the Sudanese region of Darfur into the neighbouring country.

French troops are being deployed along the border between Chad and Sudan to prevent Arab militias spreading the violence that has plagued the Sudanese region of Darfur into the neighbouring country.

On Friday, the United Nations Security Council passed an American-backed resolution demanding that Sudan disarm ethnic Arab militias blamed for atrocities that have driven refugees, mostly ethnic Africans, from Darfur.

France is sending 200 soldiers, already stationed in Chad, to the border to help with humanitarian work and guard against the Janjaweed. These mounted Arab militias are said to have burned villagers alive in Darfur and have driven more than one million people from their homes.

About 180,000 refugees have fled into Chad from Darfur in western Sudan, and aid agencies suggest a further 450,000 are within 100km of the border and could cross soon. The Janjaweed has pursued refugees over the border, and observers say militias may soon attack refugee camps in Chad for food.

Days ago, refugees rioted at the Farchana and Bredjing camps in Chad, pelting aid workers with stones. Chadian authorities said the attack was politically motivated; they fear the Janjaweed was involved.

Jean Pierre Bercot, the French ambassador to Chad, said: "The presence of 200 French soldiers should contribute to stability and security for the people. We will be there to bear witness for the rest of the world to incursions by the Janjaweed."

France has 1,000 troops in Chad, many from the Foreign Legion, to help promote stability and train Chadian forces in peace-keeping duties. Its border troops will support African Union observers monitoring Darfur, and work with Chadian troops to secure the 1,200km-long border. France has also promised to provide humanitarian support. A military transport filled with food, tents and medicines has already flown to eastern Chad. The troops will stay on the Chad side, the French said, and there are no plans to send them into Sudan.

The decision comes days after the Chad government has appealed for international aid to help it cope.The seasonal rains have rendered many roads in eastern Chad and Darfur impassable. Aid agencies say French military aircraft will get aid to refugees much more swiftly. "This has easily saved us two to three weeks of travel through the desert," Craig Sanders of the refugee agency UNHCR said. "Anything that will get us material out here and save us time is appreciated."

Most Western countries are reluctant to launch a large-scale military intervention in Sudan, but would provide small military units for specific duties. Britain is considering sending troops to help distribute aid and, possibly, to protect refugee camps. This weekend, soldiers of the 12th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, based on Salisbury Plain, were put on standby.

France and Britain are keen to let the fledgling African Union take the lead in managing the crisis. The AU had tried to host peace talks between the various factions in Sudan last month, but the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, two rebel groups fighting the government in Sudan, walked out, saying the Khartoum government was not meeting their conditions.

Since then, the AU has tried to manage the conflict in other ways. Several Egyptian military observers set off to Darfur on Saturday to serve in the AU monitoring team. Their presence may help bridge the gap between most members of the AU, who have strongly condemned the Sudanese government for its part in the Darfur crisis, and the Arab League, which is less critical of the government in Khartoum.

The Sudan government has reluctantly agreed to comply with the UN resolution to disarm militia groups within 30 days or face diplomatic and economic penalties. Many aid agencies in Darfur are dismayed that the UN did not carry out an earlier threat to impose immediate sanctions on Sudan. They say the 30-day deadline will merely allow the Janjaweed to continue killing civilians in Darfur for longer, and exacerbate the humanitarian situation.

The Sudan government had promised to rein in the militias on 3 July, but the killings and rapes have continued, and the number of refugees arriving at the camps is still rising.

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