Page last updated at 16:09 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 17:09 UK

Russia 'ready to help EU' in Chad

A Eufor helicopter on exercise (file pic)
Helicopters are needed for rapid reaction across huge distances

Russia is preparing to provide four transport helicopters with crew to help the EU's peace mission in Chad - despite tensions over Georgia.

The EU force commander, General Patrick Nash, says talks about the Russian helicopters are "very advanced".

The operation - called Eufor Chad/CAR - has been hampered by a shortage of helicopters, needed to reach refugees scattered over a vast area of desert.

EU leaders have recently criticised Russia's deep incursion into Georgia.

Russia poured troops into Georgia in August after Georgian forces tried to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Chad/Darfur map

EU observers are arriving in Georgia this week, but Russia does not want them to enter South Ossetia or the other breakaway region it is supporting - Abkhazia.

The Russian helicopters - expected to arrive in November - will boost by one-third the number available to the EU forces in Chad, Gen Nash said.

"With 3,500 troops in an area of operations the size of France, you cannot have enough air assets," he told a news conference on Monday.

Troops in the French-dominated EU force started to deploy to Chad and the Central African Republic in February, to protect civilians fleeing attacks in the neighbouring Darfur region of Sudan.

In May, the EU said it was holding discussions with Russia "to prepare the deployment of helicopters" and said "Russia intends to provide four Mi-8 MT utility helicopters with full supporting equipment and up to 120 personnel".

There are 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad housing some 250,000 refugees from the conflict-torn Darfur region.

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