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Last Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Europe plans Darfur border force
Kaltouma Mahamat
Hundreds of thousands have been displaced in Chad and CAR
The European Union has taken the first step towards sending a force to countries neighbouring the Sudanese conflict in Darfur.

European foreign ministers in Brussels authorised their military staff to draw up plans for an operation to deploy in Chad and the Central African Republic.

The move is to support a proposed United Nations peacekeeping mission.

France, which has a large military presence in eastern Chad, would take a major role in any European force.

Arab militia, operating from Darfur, have been attacking villages in Chad and the Central African Republic for months, causing tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Amid the instability, banditry has thrived and there has also been fierce fighting between local rebels and government forces.

In 2003, Europe sent troops to the eastern Congo to halt a breakdown in law and order in the town of Bunia, while UN forces in the town were reinforced.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, said he thought the mission should focus on internally displaced Chadians. "They are probably the Darfur victims who are the least taken care of, the displaced persons," he told Reuters news agency as he arrived at the EU foreign ministers' meeting.

In Darfur, at least 200,000 people are estimated to have died and more than two million have fled their homes in the past four years.

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