I propose to take Questions Nos. 90, 107 and 130 together.
During the period 16 –18 June 2008, I took the opportunity to visit Chad, where 393 members of the Permanent Defence Force are currently serving with the UN mandated European Union military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, EUFOR TCHAD/RCA. The primary purpose of my visit was to see at first hand the work of the Irish Defence Forces Personnel serving with EUFOR and to convey to them, on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland, the deep appreciation felt regarding the outstanding manner in which they are performing their duties in this challenging mission. I was accompanied on my visit by the Secretary General of my Department, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lt. Gen. Dermot Earley, Assistant Secretary General Ciaran Murphy, and Ambassador Kyle O'Sullivan, Ireland's Ambassador to Nigeria, who is accredited to Chad.
On 16 June 2008, I met with Chad's Secretary of State for National Defence, General Hassan Saleh Al-Djinedi and with Mr. Victor Da Silva Angelo of Portugal, UN Special Representative of Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission (MINURCAT) in N'Djamena.
In my meeting with General Hassan Saleh Al-Djinedi we discussed the role of EUFOR TCHAD/RCA. I outlined the mandate and the neutral and impartial nature of the force. I specifically pointed out Ireland's neutral status and that our key concern and the reason for Ireland's participation was to create a safe and secure environment for refugees, internally displaced persons and for the distribution of humanitarian aid. We also discussed the difficult security situation on the ground. I advised him that we would have no role in any internal issues which would be a matter for the Chadian authorities.
In my meeting with Mr. Victor Da Silva Angelo of Portugal, UN Special Representative of Secretary General Head of the UN Mission (MINURCAT), I discussed the security situation and the ongoing work on the deployment of Police/Gendarmerie units in the camps. The SRSG pointed to the difficulties involved in progressing the return of IDPs to their homes because of the fraught security situation on the ground and the lack of support available to returning IDPs. He noted the difficult security situation which he said is also impacting on humanitarian workers and on their capacity to service the camps. He advised me that the first contingent of police and gendarmerie commanders had just graduated from the UN course. While the recruitment process is slower than expected, he hoped to have 5 or 6 companies of Gendarmes in the camps by the end of the rainy season. He advised that the mid-term review of the mission was about to commence and a joint EU/UN Technical Assistance mission was in Chad to conduct the review. The SRSG confirmed that there was very satisfactory co-ordination on the ground with MINURCAT and praised the role which the Irish Deputy Force Commander was playing in this regard. We also discussed the incidents which occurred in the days immediately prior to my arrival. The SRSG referred positively to the important role the Defence Forces had played in evacuating and providing safety and shelter for the humanitarian workers in Goz Beida.
Before travelling to Goz Beida on 17 June to visit troops of the Irish 97th Infantry Battalion at their headquarters in Camp Ciara, I met with EUFOR's Deputy Force Commander, Col. Derry Fitzgerald and other senior Irish Officers based in EUFOR Force HQ. I was briefed on the humanitarian and security situation on the ground; particularly on the recent incidents in Eastern Chad; their impact on the security of the camps and the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need.
On 17 June 2008, I visited Camp Ciara, which is the headquarters of the Irish-led multinational battalion. The standard of the camp and the facilities in it are very impressive and quite remarkable, particularly when you consider the distances and logistics involved in transporting all the equipment and constructing the camp. Great credit is due to the advance party for the magnificent effort they have put in to prepare the ground for the main contingent. The camp is adjacent to an airstrip, which is approximately 5 kilometres east of Goz Beida. While there, I met with the troops of the 97th Infantry Battalion who are settling in well into the new Camp. After a series of briefings and lunch with the troops, I addressed them and congratulated them on the tremendous job they are doing under extremely difficult conditions and terrain. I conveyed to them the best wishes of the Government and the Irish people in the work they are undertaking.
The Irish personnel are already making a significant difference on the ground and are enhancing Ireland's international reputation as neutral, impartial and professional peacekeepers. I was very impressed by the motivation being shown by our troops in the performance of their duties in difficult circumstances, their energy and the good atmosphere in the camp generally.
The days prior to my recent visit had been particularly tense in the region, when EUFOR Irish troops, deployed to protect Djabal IDP's/ refugee camps 4 kilometres North West of Goz Beida, received incoming fire from an unknown group. Irish personnel returned warning fire. There were no casualties. The Defence Forces, along with their Dutch counterparts, were also involved in the evacuation of humanitarian workers, NGOs and staff of the UNHCR. A total of 234 personnel were brought to Camp Ciara where they were accommodated until it was safe for them to return to their own compounds.
During my time in the camp I also met representatives from the International organisations and Irish personnel from Concern who briefed me on their activities in the camps and on the security situation for them. The local UNHCR representative, Mr. Jose Fischel de Andrade, in Goz Beida thanked me for the action which the Defence Forces had taken in evacuating humanitarian personnel including UNHCR staff and in accommodating them in the camp.
Unfortunately, I had to cancel a scheduled visit to the UNHCR refugee camp and the Internally Displaced Persons' site, both in Goz Beida, due to the security situation prevailing at the time of my visit. However, I did meet with some of them near the Camp when I was departing.
I am pleased to report that the situation in the Irish-led multinational battalion's area of responsibility is currently calm.