The decision to deploy troops in Chad is in line with the European Union's tradition of helping people in need, writes Javier Solana.
The European Union has taken the decision to launch a new peacekeeping mission in Africa. After the necessary careful planning, the European Force (EUfor) for Chad and the Central African Republic is now about to deploy in Chad.
It will be the EU's biggest military operation in the world, and will improve security for the people of Chad and Central African Republic. I am delighted that Ireland is making a significant contribution to this UN-mandated operation.
The plight of the people in Chad and Darfur is well known: hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees and displaced persons. That is the sorry outcome of a conflict that is not restricted to Darfur but has spread to the surrounding region - eastern Chad and the northeastern part of the Central African Republic.
The EU has a long tradition of helping people in need. The EU's support to the African Union's efforts to contain the crisis in Darfur is a good example of this.
Close historical, political and economic ties and geographical proximity make us partners with Africa in today's globalised world. What happens in Africa has an impact on Europe. People are fleeing war zones in Africa, often for economic reasons but also often just to save their lives.
In December we and the countries of Africa adopted our first joint EU-Africa strategy. This has as a top priority the establishment of peace and security on the African continent. Sending a peace mission to Chad and the Central African Republic is therefore a logical step.
This European security and defence policy operation will work closely on the ground with United Nations personnel and the staff of humanitarian organisations. The UN will itself be training local police to secure the refugee camps. The EU troops will secure the surrounding area with the mandate of protecting the refugees and the people looking after them.
The 3,700 EUfor troops under the command of the experienced Irish general, Lieut Gen Patrick Nash, as operation commander, come from 21 EU member states, 14 of them in the field. This shows just how truly European the operation is. Ireland is making a significant contribution with highly trained men and women. I am certain that their professionalism will make a decisive contribution to the mission.
The EU troops in Congo in 2003 and 2006 were known for their impartiality and this was an important condition for their success. It will be the same in Chad and Central African Republic in 2008.
The EU's engagement is not limited to deploying troops. We will continue to provide humanitarian support and assistance with reconstruction in the affected areas. And we will work for the internal political reconciliation process in Chad.
The EU will be spending nearly €300 million, under the European Development Fund, over five years on longer-term co-operation linking emergency aid, rehabilitation and development. Thus the EU will be helping to lay the foundations for lasting peace and stability in the region.
Javier Solana is the EU's high representative for common foreign and security policy