A U.N. team has arrived in Chad to start its two-week peacekeeping assessment in Chad and the Central African Republic. The mission follows calls for increased security for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and civilians affected by fighting from Sudan's Darfur region and national rebel movements. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's Central and West African bureau in Dakar.
Two months after U.N. officials said that the border along Sudan's Darfur region was too risky for U.N. peacekeepers, a second assessment team is reconsidering peacekeeping operations in the region.
Adrien Feniou, regional analyst with London-based Global Insight, is not optimistic that this assessment will lead to a peacekeeping troop deployment, and says he is surprised by the mission's timing.
"There are no new developments since the last tactical mission," he said. "The rebels are still operating in the area, there are still 300,000 refugees in Chad, and the security conditions are still as bad as they [were] then."
Renewed rebel activity last week in both the Central African Republic, or CAR, and Chad followed a month lull in both countries.
Given the continued hostilities, Feniou says the U.N.'s assessment is more an exercise in diplomacy than in laying the groundwork for a peacekeeping mission.
He said, "I think it is a mission being sent by the new U.N. Secretary-General [Ban Ki -moon] to bolster his position and commitment on the situation in Darfur and resolving regional stability."
A U.N. Security Council statement preceding the team's visit said it would seriously consider plans for deployment.
Relief workers say that security and health conditions are worsening in the often lawless border area prone to inter-ethnic conflicts, looting, and cross-border attacks from militia known as Janjaweed fighters.
A spokeswoman with the U.N. refugee agency, U.N.H.C.R., Helene Caux, says that the very fact the region is unstable should not discourage peacekeeping, but rather justify it.
"The presence should come sooner than later," she said. "There will never be a perfect situation to deploy an international presence. It is better to do it now than [when it becomes] too late."
Due to security concerns, international humanitarian agencies have scaled back operations, pulling out most staff. Caux says refugees have been trained to run their own camps because of the cutback in U.N. staff.
"The situation is getting worse and worse, and there is no sign at this point that it is going to improve, so such a presence would be quite crucial for the security of the refugees, of the displaced persons and of the humanitarian workers," said Caux.
Government officials in Sudan say they do not object if the U.N. sends peacekeepers to Chad, provided none enter Sudan.
The governments of Chad and Sudan accuse one another of supporting each other's rebels, though both sides deny the charges.
The peacekeeping assessment team is expected to present its findings mid-February to the new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.