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EU Foreign Ministers Okay Planning for Chad Peacekeepers

European Union foreign ministers have given the go-ahead on planning for the potential deployment of a short-term force to protect refugees in the border area between Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic. Teri Schultz this report for VOA from Brussels.

Last week the United Nations peacekeeping chief urged the European Union to do more to help militarily in the violent triangle where Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic meet. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians have been trapped in the area and suffer frequent attack from marauding militias.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have responded by ordering their military planners to draw up an operational blueprint for sending forces to help U.N. police struggling to get control of the situation.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says the idea is not new.

"That would be as you know an evolution of an idea that has been floating around for some time and we are going to be doing the strategic planning for the possibility of that operation," he said.

If approved, the expectation is that 1,500 to 3,000 soldiers would be be deployed this fall with a mandate of up to a year. The EU force would help protect humanitarian workers and U.N. staff as well as refugees.

Some reports say France would likely be the largest contributor of troops.

A U.N. Security Council resolution would be needed before any deployment could begin. Solana says he has spoken with the Chadian president Idriss Deby, who supports the idea.

"He [Deby] gave the green light to continue working on that direction so we are going to see how we can get engaged on that," said Solana.

At the same time, however, Solana said the EU's priority is to get 26,000 peacekeepers from the U.N. and the African Union in place and implementing a shaky ceasefire in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

"I would like to underline that the most important thing for us now is to get ready for the deployment of the hybrid force from the United nations in Sudan that as you know has already been accepted by President [Omar] Bashir from Khartoum," he said.

If it is deployed, the hybred U.N.- EU force will replace the undermanned African Union force of 7,000 has been trying without success to halt the four-year conflict, which has killed at least 200,000 people and left millions homeless.