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Going, Going Gone: UN Troops in Chad, Home to Darfur Victims (updates)

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No one quite knows why but the United Nations is pulling its peacekeepers out of Chad, home to hundreds of thousands of victims of Sudan's war in Darfur. The government of President Idriss Déby wants it that way.

Despite some successful UN training of Chad's own police unit (known as DIS, the Détachement intégré de sécurité), neither the Chadians nor the UN peacekeepers have enough personnel to ensure safe delivery of humanitarian goods to about half a million needy people.

The UN Security Council on Tuesday made it official, authorizing the gradual withdrawal of 3,300 troops -about two-thirds of its intended strength - down to 1,900 in Chad and 300 in the Central African Republic, also home to Sudanese refugees. The UN troops only arrived last year.

Withdrawal of the remaining uniformed personnel and 300 UN civilian police begins on Oct. 15 and by Dec. 31, they will be gone. The seven-page resolution gives a variety of tasks to the peacekeepers, known by their French acronym of MINURCAT, before they leave and tells the Chadian government what it must do after they leave, although there is no way to enforce this.

Having visited the barren camps of eastern Chad near Goz Beida, nothing less than a massive humanitarian effort could restore the moonscape desert to some semblance of decent living. The fighting in Sudan's western Darfur region sent at least 250,000 people fleeing into Chad.

Another 170,000 people lived on the Chadian side of the porous border with Darfur when their villages were attacked by militia and rebel groups, who raped, pillaged and recruited child soldiers. Bandits followed comprise of groups of young men who have known nothing but warfare.

Many Chadians want to return to their border towns but "many fear that those who attacked their villages in 2006 are still around," said John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, currently visiting the region.

Why?
Chad says its January peace agreement with Sudan has calmed the region where both governments had supported each other's rebels. It complained that the peacekeeping unit was not up to full strength, that it had ripped up roads instead of paving them and that its own gendarme were now able to protect the refugees.

Many diplomats believe Chad viewed the UN troops as an affront to its authority in dealing with the displaced, although it has a French airbase and neighboring Sudan has thousands of foreign peacekeepers. In a letter to the Security Council, released Wednesday, Chad's UN ambassador, Ahmad Allam-mi said:

"Contrary to the views of some Security Council members, who are influenced and encouraged by some malicious NGOs (non-governmental organizations), Chad is now in a position to exercise its sovereign responsibility to provide full security for persons and goods throughout its territory."

And no one is happy about the arrangement but UN peacekeepers cannot enter a country without the host nation's permission.

Austria's UN ambassador, Thomas Mayr-Harting, the only speaker at the Council meeting, said "further international engagement in eastern Chad should not be excluded if deemed necessary for humanitarian reasons. " The peacekeepers have a variety of tasks to keep order, protect civilians as well as accompany humanitarian convoys. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, was also apprehensive about the future.

Amnesty International, which has staff in the area, said the Council's decision was "premature and dangerous" and failed to consult with the local population:

The Chadian government has insisted it will ensure the protection of vulnerable people in the region without UN assistance. However, it has provided no plan about how it intends to immediately replace the UN mission. The fact that the UN is being pushed out of the country long before the mission has succeeded sets a very worrying precedent for human rights protection," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty's Africa director.

Chad, a former French colony, has been riddled with violence, ethnic tensions and bad economic governance, despite its oil revenues. It ranks near the bottom of the UN's Human Development Report, which measures a country's life expectancy, literacy, and per capita income.