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Chad Rebels Cautiously Await EU Peacekeepers


As France considers how many troops it will send to a year-long EU-U.N. peacekeeping operation on the borders shared by Sudan and its neighbors, Chad rebels are wary the peacekeepers will support President Idriss Deby in the low-intensity war both sides have fought for years. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West and Central African Bureau in Dakar.

Chad rebel leader Amine Ben Barka with the Alliance for Democratic Change says he is suspicious European peacekeepers can be neutral in the Chad conflict.

The estimated 3,000 mostly French troops are expected to protect, with U.N. support, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese, Chadians and Central Africans seeking refuge in humanitarian camps in Chad.

Barka says if the EU troops do their job, then the rebels support their participation, since their presence will also protect the safety of rebels in eastern Chad.

The problem, he says, is if France also militarily supports Chad President Idriss Deby.

Barka says the rebels feel uncomfortable about French troop involvement, because President Deby has had France's open support in past battles with the rebels.

The French government has loaned government forces military support to help fight back rebel attacks in the east.

Barka says the rebels are very worried that European countries will not be neutral in the case of border violence between rebels and government forces. He adds European leaders have not taken rebel grievances seriously.

The French government says its troops' mission in Chad will be to protect civilians, especially refugees and displaced persons, and to help humanitarian aid delivery.

For the past few years, various Chad rebel factions have fought a low-intensity battle against the government, accusing it of human rights abuses, economic neglect and oil-revenue corruption.

The Deby administration has for months negotiated separately with union leaders who called a nationwide strike last May, as well as armed rebels, political opposition, and political leaders in exile.

South-African based analyst Paul Simon Handy with Institute for Security Studies says unrest from Chad's economic and political problems will lead to more violence after the rainy season ends, allowing fighters to carry out attacks again.

"There is a real danger that these troops might be caught in the crossfire between warring parties," he said. "So it will be pretty difficult for these troops to act as neutral actors in this region."

It was only when the United Nations scaled back its role to administration and training, and the French government intervened with an offer of troops on the border, that President Deby accepted foreign peacekeepers to protect the camps.

According to U.N. humanitarian estimates, the camps hold at least 400,000 victims of fighting from Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic where rebels have taken up weapons to demand more power and attention from their governments.

Chad's humanitarian camps have been the target of border raids, plundering and rapes. Less than 250 Chad security troops currently guard the camps.

The United Nations estimates more than two million have fled inter-ethnic fighting that erupted four years ago in Darfur. It is pushing for a 26,000-member peacekeeping force in Darfur to replace the outmanned 6,000-troop AU force.

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