The Darfur Consortium

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The impact of delayed peace missions in the Darfur, Chad and Central African Republic

(February 21, 2023) Recent events have again raised questions about the delay by the United Nations and the European Union in implementing critical decisions on peacekeeping missions. The attempted coup in Chad earlier this month has resulted in an EU decision to delay its contribution to the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). Jean-Philippe Ganascia, the French Brigadier General heading the EU force on the ground in Chad, said that the fighting that started around the capital on the 1st of February 2008 had led to a four week delay. The Mission is due to start in March 2008 and the fighting should not have a major impact on the deployment of the European Union contingent.

The question that should perhaps be asked is why is the deployment of the European Union force so important? Certainly it can be foreseen that the deployment of MINURCAT will contribute to the stability in the region. The bulk of the force will be deployed on the Sudan/Chad/CAR border, and will undoubtedly contribute to security on the borders and to the protection of civilians. The mandate however does not make provision for stopping rebel activities.

An alliance of rebel groups has warned the European Union not to send troops, accusing France of directly helping Chadian President Idriss Deby to fend off rebel attacks. According to a recent BBC report the rebels are quoted as saying "The alliance of the armed opposition no longer believes in the neutrality of a force essentially composed of French troops and whose operational direction is carried out by France." Brig-Gen Ganascia said in response that if the European Force had been deployed by the time of the rebel advance, the peacekeepers would only have acted if civilians had been at risk. "We would have defended these people (civilians) if they were being attacked," he said. "But we wouldn't be facing or preventing the rebels' column from coming to N'Djamena because that is not directly our concern from a military point of view."

This might be true but France does nonetheless have a military contingent in N’Djamena which has a different mandate, one defined according to bilateral agreements. This contingent was responsible for the evacuation of foreigners from the capital last weekend. Although it is denied by the French operational commander, the presence of this contingent could well have an impact on the impartiality of the French element in MINURCAT. While this is troubling, it is still important for the main body of the mission to deploy as quickly as possible in order to ensure stability in the border area.

The situation in the neighbouring Darfur region of Sudan is even more critical. Military forces of the Government of Sudan on 8 February 2023 attacked the towns of Abu Surouj, Sirba and Suleia, forcing an estimated 200,000 from their homes, at least 12,000 of whom have fled into eastern Chad. This was one of the biggest aerial and ground attacks in recent months. The response of the UN-AU Mission to Darfur (UNAMID) Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, again opened the debate about the mandate of the mission and the implementation of the mandate. Adada issued a strongly worded statement, saying that “attacks on villages by Government forces have resulted in deaths and significant population displacement. This must stop immediately.” He also warned that UNAMID stands ready to intervene to stop similar attacks. “Protecting civilians and promoting peace are central elements of the mandate of UNAMID. There will be no standing idly by in the face of loss of life.” According to its mandate UNAMID is authorized to take the necessary action to “contribute to the protection of civilian populations under imminent threat of physical violence and prevent attacks against civilians, within its capability and areas of deployment, without prejudice to the responsibility of the Government of the Sudan.”

The Sudanese Government has made various remarks regarding the mandate of UNAMID. For example, General Rahamah, the officer in charge of international relations at the Defense Ministry of the Government of Sudan, is reported to have said that the military personnel in the UN/AU hybrid operation do not have the right to protect civilians, and can only use force in self-defence. Immediately after the latest attacks a Sudanese foreign ministry statement hinted that more military campaigns may follow: “The Sudanese government and its army are committed to the mandate of protecting the territory, borders and its citizens from all dangers and within the framework of our sovereign rights.” This must be seen as a serious obstacle for UNAMID in implementing its mandate.

The remark by Rodolphe Adada that UNAMID stands ready to intervene to stop similar attacks in future also is of concern. The UN-AU Mission to Sudan is not yet completely operational. The authorized strength makes provision for 19,555 military personnel, 6,432 police and a significant civilian component. The strength of the mission as of 31 December 2022 was only 9,065 total uniformed personnel, including 6,880 troops, 645 staff officers and military observers, 1,400 police officers, and one 140-strong formed police unit, supported by 285 international civilian personnel and 552 local civilian staff and 63 United Nations Volunteers. The mission is thus significantly under strength and, because of a lack of agreement with the Government of Sudan over the list of troop contributing countries, the situation looks unlikely to improve in the near future.

The issue of helicopter support to the missions has also not been resolved and is critical. The mission needs 24 helicopters, 3 tactical units and 1 light unit. Earlier this month Ethiopia and Bangladesh were the first two countries to commit themselves to supplying a limited number of the helicopters that are so urgently needed by the troops in Darfur. This will not be enough, and this situation leaves UNAMID without its most important enabler.

It is thus clear that if the international community, through the United Nations and the European Union, do not response more urgently, the situation in Chad, Darfur and CAR could well worsen.

 Henri Boshoff, Military Analyst, Africa Security Analysis Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria)



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