UN 'sorry' over troops criticism, says O'Dea

 

Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea said today he had received an apology from the UN after criticism that Irish troops serving in Chad failed to protect staff who were threatened by rebels at the weekend.

In today's Irish Times, a spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criticised Irish troops serving with the European peace enforcement mission (EUfor) for failing to step in when around 800 heavily armed rebels looted a UN compound, about three miles from where 430 Irish troops are based.

Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea
Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr O'Dea said that the UNHCR had apologised to him for the comments made in the newspaper.

A spokeswoman from the Ministry of Defence later confirmed that Jose Fischel de Andrade, a representative from the UN in Goz Beida in eastern Chad, had called to the Irish camp this morning and apologised to battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Paddy McDaniels, for the publication of the article in The Irish Times.

During the incident which took place on Saturday, UN employees based at a compound just outside the town of Goz Beida were in eastern Chad were threatened at gunpoint, while equipment was destroyed and satellite telephones and fuel were stolen.

Irish troops in the region fired warning shots and then took up a defensive position around the refugees camps and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps they are responsible for protecting.

The UNHCR's spokesperson in Chad told The Irish Timesthat while she accepted Irish troops needed to remain neutral, they had a UN mandate to protect humanitarian staff.

"If a humanitarian base is attacked, and we were, logic tells you they should have protected us," said Annette Rehrl via telephone from Abeche in eastern Chad. "Maybe they have a different understanding of the mandate."

The Minister for Defence, who is currently returning from a visit to Irish soldiers serving in Chad, defended the actions of the troops.

"The position is that the Irish have a specific mandate to protect internally displaced people and refugees from Dafur. They also have a mandate to enable the NGOs and others to deliver food and other aid to the people in the camp," said Mr O'Dea.

The Minister said that a request to come to the assistance of the UN had been made on Saturday and that Irish troops had responded immediately and evacuated 235 people who had been put up in the Iish cap for several days.

"When the request came in they deployed helicopters and were ready to deploy special forces if necessary," said Mr O'Dea.

"The fact of the matter is that Eufor troops can't act as police, or judges, juries etc, they have a very specific mandate and are acting under that UN mandate to come out here and protect internally displaced people and refugees from Dafur and they are performing that mandate marvelouslly.

"There are only 3,700 Eufor troops in a country which is about three times the size of France and which has some 10 million people. Our assets are spread very thinly... we have a very specific mandate, which is to protect a specific category of people. The irish government didn't draw up the mandate, I didn't draw up the mandate...the UN did and we have to behave strictly in accordance to the terms thereof."