June 10, 2007 / 1:24 PM / 12 years ago

Chad opens door to possible foreign military force

(Adds Kouchner on aid airlifts, humanitarian corridor)

By Betel Miarom

N’DJAMENA, June 10 (Reuters) - President Idriss Deby appeared on Sunday to tone down Chad’s resistance to deployment of an international military force on its volatile eastern border with Sudan’s Darfur region.

Chad has previously favoured deploying only international police to its eastern region, where Chadian government forces have been fighting rebels and aid agencies are helping hundreds of thousands of Sudanese and local refugees living in camps.

After meeting new French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Deby was asked by journalists about the possibility of U.N. blue helmets or European Union troops being deployed, and replied: "Why not?".

He said proposals for a force for eastern Chad would be made public by June 25, the date on which France has called a meeting of foreign ministers from several countries to discuss Darfur.

"We are agreed on the principle of deploying a force, but there are still some points to resolve, on which we must agree. The results of the discussions will be made public before the 25th of this month. The discussion will be on the formula of this force," Deby said.

"We have been proposing this to the international community since 2004," he said.

Faced with large numbers of refugees arriving from Darfur and struggling to contain violence linked to war in Darfur and a domestic rebellion, Chad has repeatedly called for international assistance to protect refugees in its eastern areas from what it has at times called Sudanese aggression.

But despite growing international pressure to end civil war in Darfur, branded genocide by Washington, Sudan has resisted deployment of a planned 23,000-strong U.N. force, and Chad has insisted any international force on its own territory should be made up of police and gendarmes, not soldiers.

Deby’s Prime Minister, Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye, said two weeks ago that deploying foreign troops to the area may be seen by neighbouring countries as a threat.



AIRLIFT

"The situation on the ground is not nice," said Kouchner, co-founder of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, who visited refugee camps in eastern Chad on Saturday.

French planes based in Chad together with aircraft from other European countries would airlift several tonnes of humanitarian aid to the areas he visited, which are cut off by road due to seasonal rains, he said.

Kouchner said there were various possibilities for improving aid access to stricken civilians.

He has proposed a humanitarian corridor through Chad, secured by European Union and U.N. troops, to channel aid safely to civilians in eastern Chad and Darfur. But last week Chad’s premier rejected the proposal as unnecessary.

Kouchner is on his first visit to Africa since being appointed foreign minister by new French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said last week the United Nations and African Union should quickly deploy a peacekeeping force in the region.

Kouchner was due to continue later on Sunday to Sudan.




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