- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday welcomed the successful handover of peacekeeping duties in Chad and the Central African Republic from the European Union to the United Nations and called for further improved relations with Sudan.

Eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic have been seriously affected by fighting across the border in Sudan’s Darfur region, where up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes since 2003.

The 3,300-strong EU force focused on helping to protect civilians, improve security, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to an estimated 500,000 people in eastern Chad and protecting a critical airport in northeastern Central African Republic _ jobs that will be done by 5,200 U.N. peacekeepers following Sunday’s hand over.

While the Security Council commended the EU for its contribution “to the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance and the security and stability” in the two areas, Oxfam International warned that the overall security situation in Chad has not improved significantly.

Banditry is widespread, sexual violence is increasing and interethnic attacks continue, the group said.

In a report to the Security Council in December, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “on a day-to-day basis, attacks by heavily armed bandits pose the most immediate and constant threat to the civilian population and humanitarian operations” especially in eastern Chad, which continues to face “an acute humanitarian challenge.”

Ban said more than 290,000 Sudanese refugees, over 180,000 internally displaced Chadians, and 700,000 Chadians living in the east need food, water and health care.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said the new U.N. mission is preparing itself for a possible influx of refugees in Chad if fighting intensifies in Darfur. At the moment, he said, there is “no sign of new refugees in Chad.”

The United Nations had an 860-member mission in the two countries, including about 235 international police and 45 military liaison officers, whose main focus has been selecting and training a new unit of Chad’s police and military police to maintain law and order in refugee camps, key towns and areas with large numbers of displaced civilians.

The expanded U.N. mission will continue to train the special unit.

The EU and U.N. troops are supposed to complement the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, which has deployed over 65 percent of the 26,000 soldiers authorized by the Security Council.

The Security Council press statement on Tuesday stressed “the importance of a further improvement of regional relations, in particular between Sudan and Chad.”

Rebels took up arms in Sudan’s western Darfur region in early 2003, citing neglect and marginalization by the central government. Attempts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table or to broker cease-fires have failed to end the fighting.

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