Chad + 1 more

Sudan: France mulls EU-led force for eastern Chad

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By Nick Antonovics

PARIS, June 2 (Reuters) - France is asking its European Union partners to consider sending a force of up to 12,000 troops to Chad to provide aid for people fleeing the Darfur conflict in Sudan.

A French Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed on Saturday that Paris was also trying to gather foreign ministers from Group of Eight nations plus China for talks at the end of June about the crisis in Darfur.

Fighting between government-backed militias and rebel groups in the western Sudanese region has killed more than 200,000 people and driven 2 million from their homes. Paris is alarmed at the rising numbers reaching Chad, a former colony, and Sudan's neighbour.

"We are saying there's a deteriorating situation in eastern Chad, where it is necessary to intervene to provide humanitarian aid to a population of around 400,000, of which half have been displaced from Sudan," said French Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Denis Simonneau.

Liberation newspaper reported on Saturday that Paris had approached European Union partners including Germany about planning and taking part in an EU-led force of between 3,000 and 12,000 troops.

"The figures mentioned in the article are a range," said Simonneau. "It's not a target we have fixed. It's an estimate (of needs)."

Liberation likened the plan to the EU's decision in 2003 to send around 1,500 troops to Bunia in eastern Congo to supply aid and stop fighting - the EU's first military operation outside Europe.

That operation took place under a United Nations mandate for a multinational force and the troops were mostly French.

Simonneau said any force in eastern Chad could include French troops with the support of other EU nations and the United Nations. Initial discussions had already been held in Brussels, he said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner this week sounded out G8 colleagues about creating aid corridors into Darfur, an idea non-governmental organisations criticised on the grounds it could create confusion between military and humanitarian action.

Simonneau said the corridors idea was "one option, among others". Aid would not necessarily need to arrive in convoys from Chad but could also consist of air drops from Port Sudan.

"One should not focus on humanitarian corridors," he said.

He confirmed France was planning to host a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight countries plus China at the end of June to discuss the Darfur crisis further. No date for the talks had been set, he said.

G8 leaders are expected to discuss Darfur when they meet in Germany June 6-8.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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