UN takes back criticism of Irish troops

BOTH the UN and Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, have defended the actions of Irish troops in Chad when armed groups tried to attack refugee camps and NGO compounds at the weekend.

The troops were accused of failing to respond to a call for help from a UN agency in Goz Beida where the Irish battalion is based, and of failing to intervene in fighting between rebel groups and the Chadian army.

However, the UN apologised for the accusations, made by their spokesperson who was based some distance away in the capital D’Njemina at the time.

They told Defence Minister Willie O’Dea, who is visiting the camp, that the Irish had responded well and had taken several aid workers to the safety of Camp Ciara at their own request.

Mr O’Dea, speaking to RTÉ, said he had received an apology from the UN for the incorrect allegations.

However, he has been unable to visit the refugee and displaced persons camps under Irish protection during his three-day visit because of ongoing security fears.

On Saturday, Irish soldiers fired warning shots at rebels who fired at them and persuaded them to abandon an attempt to enter one of the main refugee camps in the region with over 11,000 Sudanese people.

Mr Solana said: “The European forces are doing a fantastic job. People, who have been protected, are very happy.”

He said EUFOR could not be blamed for looting and destruction of property belonging to NGOs.

Answering accusations by Chadian President Idriss Deby that the soldiers stood by and did not intervene to prevent rebel groups attacking civilians, Mr Solana said they were operating strictly according to their UN mandate.

Their mandate is to protect NGOs and the refugee camps that house about a quarter of a million people who have fled homes.

The operation is under the command of Irish Lt Gen Pat Nash and spokesperson Comdt Dan Harvey said the troops had conducted themselves very well.

Over 1,000 armed rebels swept through eastern Chad in recent days, threatening civilians and stealing vehicles and supplies.

Reports said rebel groups had retreated towards the Sudanese border.

While the situation around the Irish camp is calm, everyone remains on high alert.

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