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EU Faces Growing Obstacles Over Planned Peace Force in Chad

Some 3,700 European Union peacekeeping troops were due to deploy in eastern Chad by mid-November. The mostly French peacekeepers are being sent to protect people displaced by the fighting in Sudan's troubled Darfur region and by fighting in Chad between the government and Chadian rebels. But the deployment has been delayed by logistical and financial problems and overshadowed by mistrust from the local population and Chadian rebels. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Kissy Agyeman, from the London research group Global Insight, says the main problem facing the EU peacekeeping force has been getting equipment from European countries. Add to that the current violence in the Sudan border region, and she says those commitments could become even harder to secure.

"At present, it has been stalled because of the fact they have not gotten enough helicopters or air equipment and also because there are not enough medical supplies," she said. "However that is not to say that what has happened recently in Chad will not also force the EU force to rethink its strategy perhaps and it could effectively put the troops at risk."

She also says money has been an issue.

"Obviously the EU has been straddled by the burden of other conflicts around the world so this obviously adds to that," she said. "But it is a pressing problem, and it has been said to be uppermost on the agenda for the EU so I do not think it will deter them but it may very well delay."

Britain and Germany are not helping with manpower or money because of other commitments, like the war in Afghanistan. Other countries are being put off by the expected high maintenance costs of running helicopters, planes and medical aircraft in Chad's dusty environment.

About $150 million have been earmarked for the mission, but European military officials warn the cost could be much higher. A planned United Nations peacekeeping mission for Sudan's Darfur region is also facing delays, amid complicated requirements imposed by the Sudanese government.

Logistics and finances are not the only problem that besets the EU peacekeeping mission for Chad.

Besides logistics and finances, the peacekeeping mission faces skepticism and mistrust by some in Chad.

Chadian rebel spokesman Makaila Nguebla says he is concerned that France, the former colonial power that is to supply about half the soldiers in the force, has political motivations.

Nguebla says he hopes his fears are unfounded. He says in recent days French fighter planes have been surveying rebel positions in eastern Chad like never before.

A permanent French military mission in Chad has helped government forces combat several rebel advances over the last few years. The rebels say they are fighting bad governance and broken promises. Rebel spokesman Nguebla says France's connection to Chad's government could present problems for the peacekeepers.

Nguebla says if the EU force is seen as an extension of the French military it will risk direct confrontation with rebels.

Other Chadian rebels say France is giving increased military backing to Chad right now to obtain the release of jailed French aid workers charged in an attempt to kidnap children from refugee camps as part of a forced adoption scheme.

French officials have denied any link.

But Rolake Akinola, an analyst with the London-based Control Risks group, says that the recent scandal does make the EU's deployment even more difficult.

"It increases suspicion, so it means that the external force is going to have to work twice as hard in order to gain the trust and confidence of those it is being sent there to protect," said Akinola. "It needs to be able to keep a certain level of credibility. That will also mean not getting involved in any significant political issues beyond its sole mandate of peacekeeping."

Other rebels have declared war against the French military, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed the EU force will go ahead despite the threats. Chad's prime minister also called for the deployment to go forward.