EU gives green light to Chad mission

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LUXEMBOURG, Oct 15 (Reuters) The European Union gave the green light today for a force of up to 3,000 troops in eastern Chad and Central African Republic to protect civilians from violence spilling over from neighbouring Darfur.

Ex-colonial power France will provide roughly half the UN-authorised force, whose tasks include protecting refugees and facilitating humanitarian supplies. Its mandate is for a year initially and the mission is due to start within weeks.

French diplomats say roughly a dozen European countries have offered to send troops or equipment, and Brussels is also consulting with non-EU countries over contributions.

''We have got the capacity, we are already at over 2,000,'' French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters after the force was approved by EU foreign ministers.

He said the mission was planned to start before the middle of November at the latest.

Eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic have seen a spillover from the 4-year-old conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, in the form of cross-border raids by Sudanese militia and an influx of tens of thousands of refugees.

Refugees and villagers in the remote areas have also been victims of fighting by local rebel and government troops, as well as bandits who have turned the Chad-Sudan-CAR triangle into one of the most dangerous and desperate regions on earth.

According to UN figures there are some 400,000 Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians in Chad and 200,000 displaced people in the Central African Republic.

The force will have no power to enter Darfur, where UN peacekeepers are due to bolster an African Union force that has proved incapable of stemming the growing violence there.

Twenty people were killed in ethnic clashes in east Chad after the desertion of former rebels loyal to the defence minister stoked tensions in the region bordering Darfur, government sources said today.

Reuters RSA RN2310

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