Preparing for MINURCAT's Departure (Continued)

(This blog post picks up from one written last week.)Contrary to the agreement of UN and Chadian officials that the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT)? has “served its purpose,” the BBC reported news of clashes between the Popular Front for National Resistance (FPRN) and Chadian security forces over the weekend. Unofficial reports from the area reference heavy losses of both troops and vehicles sustained by the Government of Chad (GoC)—raising concerns about the possibilities for continuation of humanitarian operations in the area.The Secretary-General’s speech yesterday continued to maintain that improved relations between Chad and Sudan would allow for a significant reduction of military troops in the volatile Eastern Chad border region; the speech did not respond directly to concerns from human rights groups regarding the financial and logistical components of the new security arrangement. More than 200,000 Darfuri refugees are dependent upon humanitarian operations by international and domestic NGOs for food, shelter, and medical care in the region.Outlining the proposals advocated in his report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon?recommended the MINURCAT mission’s military component in Chad now be reduced from 3,300 troops to 1,400 troops. In context, the remaining military troops would represent only 38 percent of the troops initially authorized by the UN as necessary to securing the displaced refugee population and humanitarian operations in Eastern Chad. (Even before this withdrawal, the MINURCAT deployment never approached its full authorized deployment of 4,900).As noted previously, over the past year the region has remained among the most hazardous operating environments currently sustaining humanitarian operations. The disruption of humanitarian operations this weekend was not the first such occurrence. Multi-week suspensions of operations by agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in November-December and May 2009.Without sufficient security in the area, NGOs are unable to provide services ranging from food distribution—a particular concern ahead of the rainy season; water and sanitation projects—vital to control the spread of disease among overcrowded and vulnerable refugee populations; and medical services, including mobile clinics serving rural populations.The continued absence of a military capable of securing the area and deterring further attacks could threaten not only the refugee community, but the ability of the humanitarian NGOs to continue to operate in the area.In addition to these concerns, the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report increase the informal role of the D_tachement int_gr_ de s_curit_ (DIS)—formed to provide security in the refugee camps and surrounding areas but increasingly relied upon to provide escorts to many UN agencies and some NGO convoys. The under-deployment of the MINURCAT military component, and its lack of troop-strength capable of providing military escorts, increased the role of the DIS (UN-trained Chadian police); this has diverted the focus of the force away from providing security to camp residents, including protection to women gathering firewood and animal feed and to those travelling to market of farming areas.Along with replacing the lost 1,400 MINURCAT troops—the Government of Chad must also scale up the capacity of the Gendarmerie Nationale national police force of Chad in order to take over the security escorts required by humanitarians—a challenge considering the lower levels of operational and human rights training provided to this force.Human Rights groups urged the Secretary-General to consider the security of NGO operations, as well as the need for consultation and transparency with refugee communities and humanitarian agencies on the ground. It is vital that the final recommendations, to be adopted by the UN Security Council later this month, are revised to include these concerns.In sum, the Secretary-General’s recommendations advocate for the withdrawal of 1,400 troops by 15 July (leaving only 1,900 international troops in Chad until 15 October 2010, when they are planned to cease all operations and commence their final withdrawal), while the Government of Chad must source the necessary financial and logistical resources to secure a volatile region hosting in excess of 200,000 Darfurian refugees, whilst sustaining renewed attacks from militia groups possibly associated with the Government of Sudan.

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