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Chad, UN at Odds Over Peacekeeping Force

The United Nations and the government of Chad are to wrap up talks on extending a U.N. peacekeeping force in the African country. The two sides disagree over the future size of that force.

Chadian President Idriss Deby wants a rapid withdrawal of soldiers in the peacekeeping force known as MINURCAT. His government says only several-hundred police officers from the force need stay to guard civilian personnel and facilities responsible for distributing relief supplies.

U.N. negotiators want as many as 1,000 troops to remain in Chad and the Central African Republic. They are providing security for humanitarian assistance to as many as 250,000 Sudanese refugees and another 250,000 combined Chadian and Central African Republic civilians displaced by their own conflicts.

MINURCAT has already been extended through May 15. U.N. officials say there has been progress on extending some civilian components of the force, including the training of legal staff. But if these talks in Ndjamena do not produce a broader extension, most of the soldiers in the force will start drawing down in six weeks.

The U.N. Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Leroy, told the Security Council this month the full MINURCAT force is still needed.

"We consider it still very important for MINURCAT to stay after 15 of May to protect, to continue the mandate given by the Council," said Leroy. "That has to be discussed with the Chadian authorities because we can not stay without the consent of the host country, that is very clear," he said.

President Deby says Chad can do without MINURCAT because Chad and Sudan are setting up their own force to secure the 500-kilometer border as part of improving relations between the countries, after years of accusing each other of supporting rival rebel groups.

But that force will not be fully operational in six weeks. Relief officials say withdrawing MINURCAT prematurely would leave refugees and internally-displaced civilians vulnerable to banditry and hunger.

Given the size of the nearly 4,000 troop force and its broad deployment, a withdrawal would likely take several months, especially as the rainy season approaches.