The United Nations is considering a proposal to set up a joint U.N.-European Union peacekeeping force to help protect Darfur refugees in Eastern Chad.  Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York bureau.

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled Sudan's western Darfur region for Chad since fighting broke out in Darfur four years ago.  Chad has repeatedly called for international assistance to protect the refugees, saying it is struggling to contain violence linked to the Darfur conflict as well as a domestic rebellion.

The European Union said on Thursday it is considering sending an interim force to protect refugees in Chad ahead of the arrival of a planned joint African Union - U.N. force in Darfur.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, says he briefed the Security Council on the proposal Friday.

"The preliminary concept would be that there would be a resolution that would authorize an EU force, which would be a military force, and at the same time it would authorize a multi-dimensional U.N. mission with a strong police component, and that police component would essentially help beef up the specialized Chadian force to address the security situation in refugee camps," he said. 

On Wednesday, Britain, France and Ghana circulated a draft resolution for a 26,000-member joint African Union-U.N. force for Darfur.  The resolution, which is expected to be adopted this month, also threatens force against those who attack civilians and relief workers, or obstruct peace efforts.  The force would replace the undermanned 7,000 strong African Union force currently in Darfur.

The Khartoum government has given its nominal consent to the so-called hybrid force, which was first authorized by the U.N. Security Council nearly a year ago. Critics say Sudan has used stalling tactics to allow the bloodshed in Darfur to continue.

Guehenno says he hopes the proposed force will gain full support from Sudan.

"No force can work effectively at peacekeeping if it is not accepted by all parties," he explained.  "You cannot impose yourself.  We will have a force that is impartial, that has a clear mandate to help Sudan.  We will hope Sudan to be forthcoming with what we are proposing."

Guehenno says, at the earliest, the bolstered peacekeeping force will arrive in Darfur at the beginning of 2008.

Fighting between the Sudanese-backed Arab Janjaweed militia and ethnic African rebels has left some 200,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million others.