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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 16:19 GMT
EU launches Chad protection force
Refugees from Darfur in Eastern Chad (AFP)
The EU mission is to protect refugees and displaced people
A European peacekeeping force is to head to Chad and the Central African Republic, after it was approved by EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The 3,500-strong contingent will aim to protect refugees from Darfur and people displaced by internal fighting.

France has promised to deploy at least 1,350 troops and the Irish Defence Forces are to send a further 450.

The mission which has been delayed several times is due to begin in the coming weeks under a UN mandate.

The operation will be run by Irish commander Lt-Gen Pat Nash from a headquarters near Paris. French troops are already stationed in eastern Chad and a French brigadier general will take charge on the ground.

February start

An Irish military spokesman said an initial entry force of around 400 soldiers would head for the Chadian capital Ndjamena on 1 February, including 50 elite soldiers from the Irish Army Ranger Wing.

Known as Eufor Chad/CAR, the force will be deployed in four areas - three in Chad and one in the Central African Republic.

The mission is among the hardest undertaken by the European Union and will involve 14 member states on the ground.

Map of Chad, Darfur and CAR

Part of their initial 12-month mandate involves providing back-up for 300 UN police officers monitoring camps for refugees and displaced people.

More than 200,000 refugees from Darfur are in camps in the region, along with 178,000 displaced Chadians and 43,000 Central Africans.

In a statement, EU ministers said the force would help protect civilians in danger, ease the delivery of humanitarian aid and ensure the free movement of aid workers.

Further contributions are to come from Belgium, Poland, Italy, Austria, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

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