ANN CAHILL: Troops in war-torn Chad among first to cast ballots

IN TEMPERATURES of up to 55°C and in one of the most dangerous parts of the world, members of the Irish army were among the first to vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum.

Mostly drawn from the Western Battalion, the 450 men and women are part of the EU force in Chad, where their job is to make the area as safe as possible for the local people, the refugees and the aid agencies working with them.

They have set up camp at Goz Beida, about 70km from the border of war-torn Darfur, in the midst of a huge region where a quarter of the 300,000 Darfur refugees and about 100,000 displaced Chadians have sought refuge.

Captain Peter Norton flew to Chad with the final Irish contingent of 126 soldiers, and brought more than 400 ballot papers last week.

“I expect most will vote in the referendum — but of course I don’t know how they will vote”, he said from the army’s base in N’Djamena.

Over the following few days they were distributed to the troops in the camp in Goz Beida and to Irish officers such as Comdt Sean Gavin in force headquarters in Abeche and in the capital N’Djamen.

At Camp Ciara in Goz Beida the sealed envelopes were handed out after the 6.30am parade to those present and the rest held for those away on patrol in the region.

The man in charge, Lt Col Paddy McDaniel, said it was up to each person to decide how to vote.

Comdt Steve Morgan explained the sealed votes would be collected and sent to Ireland.


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