Chad + 2 more

UN prepares mission to talk to Chad leaders

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, May 18 (Reuters) - The United Nations intends to send a mission to Chad next week in an attempt to allay government concerns about a proposed U.N. peacekeeping operation in Sudan's western neighbor, U.N. officials said on Friday.

The group of about 10 experts leaves during the weekend to begin talks with Chadian leaders in the capital N'Djamena on Tuesday and may stay a few weeks, said one senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In February, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recommended peacekeeping operations up to 11,000 soldiers and police in Chad and the Central African Republic to staunch the violence and spillover from the Darfur conflict in western Sudan.

Chadian President Idriss Deby, who had sought international help for months, was reluctant to approve troops rather than just civilian police, arguing that Chad was chosen because Sudan has refused U.N. peacekeepers, Ban said.

Both countries have supported each other's rebels.

But the United Nations contends that police cannot operate without military protection. "We will listen to their concerns in hopes of reaching a formula where our people would be sufficiently protected," the senior official said.

"There is an assessment team that is going out there," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, this month's council president, told reporters. He said the council expected an update by the end of May, although the team may not return by then.

In Darfur, at least 200,000 people have died and 2 million have been chased from their homes since the conflict flared in 2003 when African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in a fight over resources.

Eastern Chad has some 234,000 Sudanese refugees and 120,000 of its own citizens chased from villages along the border with Sudan's Darfur, mainly by government-armed guerrillas.

A Security Council mission in June 2006 visited camps in Chad, where the U.N. refugee agency said recruiters were prevalent in trying to engage men and boys to fight.

The leader of the mission, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, said members "felt very guilty that the United Nations actually hasn't been able to do more to protect the people in those camps."

France, the former colonial power, has an air force base of about 3,000 in Chad.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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