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Border Incident Highlights Challenges of Chad, Darfur Peacekeeping


A deadly incident in the border region between Chad and Sudan in which a French soldier was apparently killed is highlighting the challenges of peacekeeping in the refugee-flooded, violence-wracked region. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar.

Experts from the European peacekeeping mission in Chad are trying to identify the body of a French soldier who was reported missing after an incident on the Sudanese side of the border. Sudan authorities say his remains were discovered near the border and flown to the capital.

Sudan's government also says four nomads were killed when they tried to carry his body and one of his grenades detonated. Another civilian was reported killed during the border incident.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin said the clashes took place March 3 when a Jeep carrying French special forces troops on a surveillance mission inadvertently crossed into Sudan, where he says they were fired upon at close range. There were more firefights when the French troops crossed into Sudan a second time looking for the missing soldier.

Whatever the exact details, regional expert Richard Barltrop, of the research group Oxford Analytica, says it is a warning signal to the peacekeeping mission known as Eufor.

"This incident should serve as a strong reminder to Eufor that it has got to respect that border line," said Barltrop. "It is quite difficult actually to know where that border is. The border zone between Darfur and Chad has a bit of a feel of a no-man's land."

The peacekeeping force of nearly 4,000 European soldiers, more than half of them French, is mandated with ensuring security of people displaced by the conflicts involving rebel groups and militias in Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan's Darfur region.

More French troops are already in Chad as part of a cooperation agreement with the Chadian government, which is facing the region's most threatening insurgency.

A U.S.-based German security analyst, who is studying the European deployment, Bjoern Seibert, says an advance team of Austrian peacekeepers who went to Chad's capital, during fighting last month, also encountered problems.

"During the assault of N'Djamena, there were some Austrian soldiers deployed in N'Djamena actually deployed in a hotel and they appeared not to have been informed by the French forces that the assaults were relatively close to the capital," said Seibert. "Actually, the rebels managed to enter the capital, and so the Austrian soldiers were caught in their hotel."

He says the Austrian soldiers were forced to hide in the hotel's basement before being able to reach the French-secured airport.

Barltrop says Eufor peacekeepers also face a security threat from Chadian rebels, but he thinks this will be less than the opposition they will face if they cross into Sudan again.

"There is obviously a risk that opportunistic attacks on Eufor will occur within Chad and will be carried out by Chadian rebels, because Chadian rebel groups did not welcome the prospect of the deployment of Eufor," he said. "However, I think the Chadian rebel groups will not or would not be as bold as Khartoum in provoking or sending out warning signals to Eufor."

Both analysts say the incident involving the French forces also shows how difficult deployment will be for the hybrid African Union, United Nations force in Darfur, and what is needed is a political solution with more talks, within and between governments.

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