I asked the Minister earlier to assure the House that there will be adequate numbers of medical staff on this mission. On 25 September last, the UN Security Council authorised Resolution 1778, which provides for the deployment of a multidimensional international presence in east Chad and north-east Central African Republic. Human Rights Watch has called on the EU and the UN to address the needs of the most vulnerable civilians — displaced people who remain outside the large camps and those who are still living in their home communities. It is imperative that EU forces act to protect the civilians who are at greatest risk, wherever they may be. The UN resolution I mentioned focuses assistance on areas of east Chad and north-east Central African Republic where continued armed conflict, general lawlessness and chronic instability, partly related to the conflict in the adjoining Darfur region of Sudan, have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.
Reports in the media have suggested that Ireland will be the second-highest contributor, in terms of soldiers, to the EU mission in Chad. I understand that France is to provide half of the full contingent in the shape of a battalion comprising three companies and support units. Ireland will provide between 350 and 400 troops, Sweden will provide 200 troops, Austria will provide 160 troops and other countries will provide much smaller numbers of troops. Countries which are much larger than Ireland are making far fewer troops available for this mission. I appreciate that Ireland is taking the lead in this high-risk mission.
The involvement of France in this deployment is one of the serious problems faced by the mission. As France is the former colonial power in Chad, it might not be seen as an independent player. France's tough approach in the past could benefit the Irish troops by causing rebels to become fearful of attacking the EU forces. It might add to the authority of this mission. However, France's status as the former colonial power could create the impression that this EU force has been deployed to protect the local government from attempts to overthrow it. That might make the force a target.
Rebels have claimed that in April, France fired warning shots on rebels who were advancing on the Chadian capital. They argue that France's interest in participating in the EU mission is a tactic that will enable the French authorities to keep the President of Chad, Mr. Déby, who is a French-trained helicopter pilot, in power. Those rebels who seek to overthrow Mr. Déby have explicitly stated in media reports that if the EU mission gets in their way, they will have no hesitation in attacking it and thereby dragging the mission into combat within Chad. A representative of one of the Chadian rebel groups stated bluntly in September that if the EU troops come on the pretext of Darfur but then block the rebel advance on the capital, they will receive a very bad welcome.
It has been suggested that everything will be okay if the force does not touch the rebels. The rebels have said that the EU mission will see what they are made of if it gets in the way of an advance on the capital. Another rebel spokesman said that if the EU force is deployed to secure Darfur the rebels will not get in the way, but there will be clashes if the EU troops get in the way of rebel strikes on government positions. The situation in Chad is deteriorating. The rapid pace of development in the security situation is reported in The Irish Times of 8 November 2007. It reported that people are doubtful that the recent peace agreement signed between the Government and the rebels would last. Within two weeks of this report, the rebels had declared their ceasefire to be over and fighting had flared up on 26 November in the area in which the EU mission will be based. The rebels accused the regime of attacking them.
Chad has suffered from political instability. It has faced constant coups, with governments splitting and ministers plotting coups against the existing regime. One risk for the EU force is to find itself based in a country where the government may be deposed by rebels potentially hostile to the French, who are the main component of the EU force.
The lack of physical infrastructure in Chad, the poor quality of airports and the distance between them means that the ability of the mission to offer support to the soldiers on the ground may be severely compromised.
Questions arise as to the ability to supply the EU forces with adequate food, water and medical supplies, should major civil disturbances erupt. With the upsurge in rebel attacks, the EU force might be prevented from receiving necessary reinforcements and air cover and may need to be withdrawn in an extreme case.
The geography and weather conditions in Chad must be taken into account. The temperature rises to 45° Celsius. The EU force must be guaranteed every necessary protection, full air cover and a guarantee that food, water and medical supplies can be supplied in any circumstance and no matter what civil disturbance might arise.
Military planning must cover for every potential development, up to and including the possibility of wholesale civil war; the overthrow of the current regime; a destabilisation of the situation in neighbouring Darfur which may lead to a flood of massive numbers of additional refugees fleeing from Darfur into Chad.
I ask the Minister to confirm whether the Government has invested €43 million of Irish taxpayers' money in companies that are propping up the regime in Sudan, which fuels the conflict. This is reported in one of today's newspapers.