The European Union has officially launched a European peacekeeping force for Chad and the Central African Republic to protect hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled violence in the region, including strife-torn Darfur. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.
The launch was announced after a European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. The peacekeeping force will support 300 U.N. police officers already in place to monitor camps for Darfur refugees and internally displaced persons.
The force will help protect about 234,000 Darfuri refugees, along with 178,000 eastern Chadians and displaced in the fighting between their government and at least three rebel groups. A further 43,000 Central Africans displaced by strife and rebellion in the north of their country, are also in camps in the region.
The peacekeeping force will also be tasked with easing the delivery of humanitarian aid and ensuring the free movement of aid workers.
The predominantly French force of 3,700 was meant to be deployed last November, but faced major challenges. Some of the E.U. member countries participating in the force are also members of NATO and had troops and equipment committed elsewhere.
Chairman of the sub-Committee of Security and Defense of the European Parliament Karl von Wogau explains.
"I visited this very long border of 1,300 kilometers with camps of fugitives and displaced persons and it became clear that you needed troops which are rapidly mobile so it was necessary to get helicopters and most of the helicopters which were available in Europe, were already in Afghanistan or Iraq or some other places," he said.
An E.U. statement says about $176 million have been earmarked for the mission, but military officials say the real cost could be more than five times that sum.
The peacekeeping force has a U.N. Security Council mandate for one year. Von Wogau told VOA the mission would under no circumstances stay longer.
"It is very important that we have a clear exit strategy, and it is a clear agreement that after 12 months the United Nations will take over. We cannot go beyond these twelve months," he added.
Von Wogau says the mission commander, Irish General Pat Nash, can begin deploying his troops and get the operation underway.