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Chad President Calls on EU to Send Peacekeeping Force

An EU peacekeeping force on Chad's border with Sudan's Darfur region had been due to arrive in February. But after fighting in Chad's capital killed hundreds and caused thousands to flee, the mission is now on hold.

French armored vehicles in N'Djamena, Chad

What role have French troops played in the conflict?

As his government stepped up security after the weekend rebel assault on the capital, Chad's President Idriss Deby called on the EU Thursday, Feb. 7, to deploy the peacekeeping force to the eastern part of the country urgently.

"We want to launch a solemn appeal to the European Union, and France ... to make sure that this force is put in place as quickly as possible to lighten the load we are carrying," said Deby in an interview broadcast on France's Europe 1 radio.

The recent clashes between government troops and rebels have delayed the deployment of the 3,700-strong force to protect the half a million Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians who have fled violence -- plunging the fates of the refugees on both sides of the border into even greater uncertainty.

Relief officials said the unrest in Chad threatened to provoke a humanitarian crisis by blocking aid flights.

The European Union had started deployment of its first forces last week, but suspended it almost immediately due to the rebel attack.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the deployment would start again once the situation was clearer, reported Reuters.

"It's a question of security, as soon as the operation commander and the force commander decide the situation is clear, the deployment will resume," said Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach.

Although fighting has ebbed with the withdrawal from N'Djamena of the insurgents, normality has not yet returned. Aid agencies estimate that some 60,000 Chadians crossed the river border after the weekend attack on the cpaital, N'Djamena. A few hundred crossed back into the capital at the urging of Chadian police on Wednesday, but others are waiting for the situation to improve.

Conflicting reports

A Chadian rebel with gun

Chadian rebel forces entered Ndjamena last weekend

Meanwhile, the Web site of the French daily La Croix reported late Thursday that French special forces soldiers took part in the battle to drive the rebels out of N'Djamena.

If the report is true, then France, which has over 1,000 troops stationed in the central African oil producer, intervened in the fighting without approval from the UN Security Council.

A spokesman for the rebels, Ali Ordjo Hemchi, said they had taken the town of Mongo, 600 km east of N'Djamena, and were bombed by French warplanes and helicopters.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Idriss Deby deny all claims that the French army has fought on the side of government troops.

On Thursday, Deby said that Paris had only provided important intelligence that helped government troops drive the rebels out of N'Djamena.

The two countries have a military cooperation pact that obliges the French government to furnish intelligence and logistical help, but does not allow French troops to engage in combat.

Media speculation

Some of the more than hundred children from the region that a French NGO, 'Zoe's Ark', attempted to fly from Chad to France on October 28, 2007 in Abeche, Chad. Nine French citizens members of the association which proclaims itself as a humanitarian NGO have been arrested and are accused with kidnapping and child trafficking.

Members of Zoe's Ark are accused of kidnapping and child trafficking

French media speculated Thursday that Deby's offer to pardon six French aid workers convicted in December in a Chadian court of kidnapping 103 children might have been repayment for French help in the conflict.

"There is obviously no connection between the two affairs," insisted a spokesman for French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

The rebels, who fought their way into N'Djamena on Saturday with a column of 300 pick-ups mounted with cannon and machine guns, have long accused Paris of propping up Deby's 18-year-old government, which they call corrupt and dictatorial.

In what has been perceived as a gesture of gratitude, Deby said he could pardon six members of French charity Zoe's Ark sentenced to eight years in prison by Chad for abducting children, if France requested it.

A spokesman for Sarkozy said on Thursday France would pass on any request for a pardon from members of Zoe's Ark, who are serving their jail terms in France.

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