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EUFOR Resumes Challenging Deployment Along Sudan's Border

The European peacekeeping force known as EUFOR has resumed deploying in the refugee-swamped border region near Sudan. It had stopped for several weeks because of a major rebel incursion in Chad, one of the two countries where deployment is taking place. But U.N. officials and security experts are renewing warnings the force faces many challenges to succeed in its planned one-year mission. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

European force commanders say they hope to be fully operational by the end of March. Their mission is to protect the swelling number of refugees and displaced people in border camps.

The deployment, the bulk of which will be in Chad, is being made as Chadian rebels remain active and fighting intensifies in Sudan's Darfur region.

New York-based Human Rights Watch says 12,000 refugees who fled this week from Darfur to Chad have little food and no one to protect them.

A U.N. official has warned the EU force, which will also deploy in volatile border areas of the Central African Republic, could attract a new wave of Darfurian refugees.

There are hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people in both Chad and the Central African Republic.

At full deployment, the European force will have 3,700 soldiers in those two countries, mainly from France, Ireland, and Poland.

The author of a recent report published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology security studies program, German-national Bjoern Seibert, says it will be difficult for such a small force to be effective.

"It is mainly built around three battalions and that is a very small force for such a large area of operation especially if you try the provision of a safe and secure environment and that is the key objective of the force right now," said Seibert.

Seibert's report is called "African Adventure? Assessing the European Union's Military Intervention in Chad and CAR."

He says even though European commanders have said the force will be neutral, he does not believe this is possible.

"It is clear that this force will have an impact on the balance of power on the ground," he said. "The force is not perceived as neutral and the [Chadian] rebels have said that repeatedly."

Chadian rebels have accused France of backing long-time Chadian President Idriss Deby in the recent battle for Chad's capital, N'Djamena, which the rebels lost, after several days of fighting that followed a rapid desert march.

The former colonial power, France, says it gave Chad's army medical, logistical and surveillance support as part of existing military accords, but that it had not engaged in direct combat.

French forces, other than in EUFOR, are based permanently in Chad and will remain in place, which Seibert says is confusing for the peacekeeping mission.

"Especially, the smaller contributing countries are increasingly concerned about the political confusion between the French forces that will be part of EUFOR and the French forces that are part of the French forces stationed in N'Djamena to support President Deby," he said.

Minor contributors include Sweden, Austria and Romania.

European powerhouse Germany is not taking part militarily, saying it is incapable of doing so because of other engagements, such as in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

The EU deployment also comes as a large hybrid U.N.-AU force is trying to deploy in Darfur to increase security there as well. But security analyst Seibert says he would like to see more focus on resolving underlying political problems.

"I think there has to be a political solution to both the conflict in Darfur with its effect on the neighboring countries and also there have to be political solutions for the inter-Chadian conflict," he said. "It remains to be seen whether we can actually engage in finding a political strategy in solving it, that is aided by the deployment of military force. Right now, I do not see this happening."

Rebels in Chad and Sudan both say they are fighting for better governance and more decentralization. Both countries accuse each other of backing the other's rebellion. In the Central African Republic, border regions marred by fighting and displaced people have been in a near state of anarchy for several years.