Support for Chad Mission is Support for Neocolonialism

29 March 2008

Support for Chad Mission is Support for Neocolonialism

As long as the neocolonial role played by the French in Chad persists, Dutch support for the EU military operation there is bad policy, says Ewout Irrgang, Member of Parliament and spokesman on development issues for the SP.

On 27th March Parliament will decide whether to contribute forces to the EUFOR mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR). The aim of the EU operation is to improve the security and stability of Chad and the CAR along their borders with Darfur, a region which is the scene of grave human rights abuses and huge humanitarian distress. The terrible images coming from the refugee camps are burnt into our retinas, and the world has looked on powerlessly for many years as the Sudanese government moves to frustrate any attempt at foreign interference.

How attractive therefore seemed the solution of stationing forces in bordering Chad in order to protect the hundreds of thousands of refugees. That is, until the beginning of February when an uprising by Chadian rebels seemed to upset the applecart. According to President Déby of Chad, this rebel uprising was an action supported by Sudan whose aim was to prevent EUFOR from being stationed. The truth is, unfortunately, a little more complicated. .

The European mission came about as a result of a French initiative, after President Déby had ruled out a mission under a UN flag. The majority of its members consist of French troops and in addition a large proportion of the helicopters and logistical support is supplied by the French, as are the officers in command. The operational headquarters is in France, and at the same time France has, on the basis of a bilateral agreement with Chad, a military force of 1,250 permanently stationed in the country under the name 'Epervier'. The aim of Operation Epervier is to protect the Chadian government.

According to a range of media France has, during the last few years, supplied Déby with millions of euros worth of weapons and continues to do so, despite the fact that this is against the EU code of conduct for arms exports. In Chad there is no question of "good governance". The Chadian president came to power via a military coup and over almost two decades this corrupt leader has succeeded in eliminating every form of opposition.

Déby has also managed to throttle the life out of the agreements made under the guidance of the World Bank concerning the use for social sectors of the income from the oil pipeline in Chad and Cameroon. Instead, these revenues have for the most part gone to the clique which surrounds Déby and to the purchase of weapons from France and the US. With ExxonMobil holding a 40 percent share in the pipeline project, the United States is profiting from this course of events. No wonder that the Security Council, with France and the US as permanent members, recently took the position that the government of Chad should be supported, within the terms set by the UN Charter, should they seek such support. The opposition, including the rebels, have therefore good reason to want to see the back of Déby and to declare war on the EUFOR mission.

The French of the Elsevier mission are, after all, passing information to Déby concerning the rebels, and the rebels therefore fear that the French of the EUFOR mission will be doing the same. It is naive to expect EUFOR to be seen in Chad as a neutral party. The mission will,moreover, end within a year and is therefore by definition too short to be able to offer realistic protection to the civilian population. Concrete agreements on a follow-up by a UN force in 2009 have yet to be seen. The Netherlands would be better arguing for a UN mission and withdrawing any support from this French-dominated EUFOR mission. Support for EUFOR will mean a further escalation of the conflict, which can surely not be the intention.

This article first appeared in Dutch in the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad, 26th March 2008.

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