N’DJAMENA (Reuters) - Chad’s government accused the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Mali on Friday of failing to relieve its contingent in the country’s volatile north and neglecting to support it, a day after five Chadian soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb.
The mission, known as MINUSMA, was deployed last year after a French-led military intervention drove out al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters, who had seized the north a year earlier.
Pockets of insurgents remain, however, and the Kidal region has seen a steep rise in attacks and landmine explosions targeting both U.N. troops and civilians.
Five Chadian soldiers were killed and three others were injured on Thursday when their vehicle hit an explosive device between the desert towns of Aguelhok and Tessalit. All of the 10 peacekeepers killed in Mali so far this month have been Chadian.
“Since their deployment, Chadian forces have remained stationed in the north, without being relieved,” government spokesman Hassan Sylla said in a statement. “The government cannot accept that the Chadian contingent serve as a shield for the other contingents positioned further back.”
He said Chad’s force in Mali was experiencing enormous difficulties with logistics, mobility and ensuring its troops were properly fed.
The government said it would give MINUSMA one week to relieve its troops and give them the necessary support, although it did not say what it would do if its demands were not met.
“Faced with the situation of precarity and discrimination that the Chadian contingent is enduring, the government calls upon MINUSMA’s leaders to ensure fair and equal treatment of all the contingents,” the statement said.
A U.N. peacekeeping spokesman said senior officials were in constant contact with the Chadian authorities on all aspects of force deployment, training, protection and operations.
“Notwithstanding the difficulties faced on the ground, our priority remains the security of our peacekeepers,” he said.
“The Department of Peacekeeping Operations works closely with troop contributors to ensure that they have the required preparation, training and equipment to sustain themselves in the field.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his gratitude to Chadian President Idriss Deby on Friday for the work of Chad’s peacekeepers. Ban’s spokesman said the leaders discussed “possible ways to improve the conditions and enhance the security of the Chadian peacekeepers.”
Chad’s army is considered one of West Africa’s most capable military forces, and it played a key role on the front-lines of last year’s operation against the Islamist fighters in Mali.
N’Djamena withdrew its troops from an African Union peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic earlier this year after a U.N. report accused its soldiers of killing 30 civilians and wounding 300 in an attack on a crowded market.
Writing by Joe Bavier.; Editing by Andrew Hay and Andre Grenon