UN warns on security vacuum in eastern Chad

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UN agencies on Thursday warned that a planned departure of international peacekeepers could leave a security vacuum in eastern Chad, where humanitarian workers face constant attacks by bandits.

"The expected progressive withdrawal of MINURCAT would have an impact on the protection of civilians and security and safety of humanitarian workers if the government is unable to step in or will not be immediately stepping into a security vacuum in the east," said Ute Kollies, who heads the UN Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Office's bureau in Ndjamena.

Security for UN and other aid workers is currently being provided by MINURCAT (United Nations Mission in Central African Republic and Chad), and the so-called DIS forces -- some 850 local policemen who have been trained by the UN mission and who are paid through the mission's trust fund.

But by May 16, the mandate of MINURCAT to protect civilians will cease, according to a report by UN chief Ban Ki-moon published end April.

Ban also outlined proposals to withdraw 1,400 peacekeepers by July 15, with the remaining 1,900 to commence their withdrawal from October 15.

Jean-Luc Siblot, the World Food Programme's director on Chad, said that while the government of Chad has promised to step in to provide the security, there was little information about its plans.

Humanitarian workers often face banditry attacks in the east of the country, with the frequency of such incidents rising to one a week during the end of 2009 and February 2010, said Siblot.

"People killing you or stopping your convoy to steal your car, to steal your money or to steal whatever," he said.

"For that we need a very mobile and efficient force to protect us and to allow access to these populations in need," he added.

Siblot said that the concentration of aid workers in the east may have attracted the bandits.

He feared that an increase in relief work in another part of the country -- the western and central Sahelian region where the population is suffering food shortages due to a poor harvest, would also lead to such attacks there.

Two convoys were attacked in the region in the last three weeks, he said.

Kollies also pointed out that the unpredictable nature of the attacks posed a severe problem.

The UN mission deployed in Chad and the neighbouring Central African Republic was created in 2007.

© 2010 AFP

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