Eufor Tchad-RCA: neutrality above all

Article published on Feb. 7, 2008
Article published on Feb. 7, 2008
Article published on January 30 on La Parisienne de café, English version. After months of drawn-out negotiations, Foreign ministers of the 27 member states have finally approved on Monday January 28, to send a European force in the east of Chad and the Central African Republic.

Codename: “ Eufor Tchad-RCA”(or “Eufor Chad-CAR”)

The plan had been on the table for six months to send European soldiers in Chad in order to help the refugees from Darfur. 400 000 men should be deployed, following a French proposition, the country having already 600 men posted permanently in the region.

The 3700-soldier mission of the European Union (coming from 14 different countries) is to afford protection to the refugees.

The mission is all the more delicate as adding to the problem of Arab militias from Khartoum invading the area; eastern Chad is also a rebel zone. To put it simply: old friends of Idriss Deby Itno, the president of Chad, want to take his place.

In Darfur, there is also a hybrid force made up of 20 000 soldiers and 6 000 policemen from the UN and the African Union. Already present for several months, they are badly equipped and underpaid and their efficiency is largely criticised.

Cohabitation problems

Chronic instability in the region is partly due to the slow process of decision making of the 27 governments of the European Union. European troops are afraid to be considered as targets and to be mistaken for French troops, genuinely hated by the rebels who accuse them to support governmental troops every time they progress.

Hearing about the arrival of Eufor, rebels have declared that there would be no problems of cohabitation so long as European troops only helped refugees even if a lot of them are French soldiers (2100 men including the former permanent Chad contingent).

A protection mandate

The commander of the operation, Irish general Patrick Nash has underlined the difference between the European Union operation and the Chad military presence: “Eufor will occupy separate camps and will be independent in the field of operations.” “If the rebels do not interfere with our mission, they are none of our business”, he added whilst précising that “in the event of an attack, Eufor is authorised to fire.”

The European force has a UN mandate that normally confers it neutrality and protection that it shall use solely to protect refugees still gradually arriving in Darfur. Some of the troops will be stationed in the Central African Republic, a neighbouring country that is in the same situation.

Another part of the mission consists of the protection of 300 UN policemen, entrusted with the task of training 850 local policemen to secure the fields.

A bad period

Eufor soldiers will need to keep their cool to respect this neutrality. Fights have regained in the last few days between governmental troops and rebels. The latter are rapidly progressing according to the last reports, being now only 400km away from the capital city of N’Djamena.

Let us imagine for instance that the rebels capture the Eufor base in the rear area in Abeché, one of the biggest cities in the east of the country, and that, as often happens in such scenarios, acts of violence are perpetrated… What will be the Eufor soldiers to do, as such acts will not concern refugees but purely internal acts of violence stemming from the political situation in Chad? In their mandate, they are only authorised to protect refugees as well as UN and humanitarian personnel. Such a dilemma may remind us of the one faced by UN soldiers in Bosnia in the 90s: humanitarian help to refugees could take place but not intervention against ethnic cleansing…

What will France do? Engaged in this “neutral” EU force, it is also bound to respect defence agreements it has with Chad. It has also (unofficially) helped governmental troops with intelligence and aviation as rebels were advancing.

The question revolves thus around the real possibility for a European force to be neutral when it is 60% French…