Chad rebuffs French idea for Darfur aid corridor

Tue Jun 5, 2007 12:53pm EDT

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By Betel Miarom

N'DJAMENA, June 5 (Reuters) - Chad rebuffed a proposal by France on Thursday to set up a humanitarian corridor through its territory to channel aid to victims of violence in Sudan's Darfur, saying it did not see the need for such a strategy.

"Chad does not need this corridor because there is a perfect and full cooperation between the Chadian authorities and the United Nations organisations," Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye told a news conference in N'Djamena.

According to French officials, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is working on an initiative to create a secure aid corridor or corridors through Chad's violence-torn east, where several U.N. agencies run large-scale relief operations.

The idea foresees that French and European Union troops would protect the flow of aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced civilians in Chad and Sudan's Darfur, where ethnic and political conflict has raged since 2003.

Chadian officials said they had received no formal proposal from France so far about the initiative, which French spokesmen said Kouchner was raising with France's G8 and EU partners and with China, a major military and economic backer of Sudan.

"The French foreign minister has talked about it. And it's not fair," Coumakoye said, apparently referring to the fact that Chad's government had not been formally consulted.

Chad government sources said Kouchner was expected to be in N'Djamena on Saturday for talks with President Idriss Deby, who has been resisting U.N. proposals to deploy a big multilateral military peacekeeping force in eastern Chad.

"We're waiting for him to come to debate the question (of the humanitarian corridor)," Chadian Foreign Minister Ahmat Allam-mi told Reuters.

The Chadian response appeared to pour cold water on what looked like an early foreign policy move by the newly installed Kouchner, a co-founder of the French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres who is known as a strong advocate of "humanitarian interventions".



DOUBTS OVER CORRIDOR

Some non-government organisations have criticised Kouchner's corridor idea on the grounds it could create confusion between military and humanitarian action and put aid workers at risk.

Chad's government has been battling an eastern rebellion by insurgents it says have been backed in the past by Sudan.

It has said it only wants a U.N. police force, not a big military contingent, in its violent east, where U.N. agencies are looking after around 234,000 Sudanese refugees and 120,000 Chadian civilians who have fled attacks by armed groups.

A spokesman in Dakar, Senegal, for Chad's UFDD rebel group said that while they did not oppose humanitarian actions, there were fears that a troop-protected aid corridor could interfere with rebel military actions.

"We're open to a dialogue with the international community," said Makaila Nguebla of the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD).

Darfur's four-year-old conflict, which pits Sudanese troops and allied Arab militias against Darfur rebels, has increasingly spilled west into Chad and Central African Republic.

Coumakoye said a Saudi-brokered reconciliation pact signed between Sudan and Chad early last month had created a "relative peace" in eastern Chad. (Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Dakar)



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