Wed, Nov 21, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Transport shortage holds up EU mission for Darfur

AGENCIES , BRUSSELSAND KHARTOUM

EU defense ministers reiterated their commitment to sending troops to help Darfur refugees on Monday, but a lack of helicopters was holding up deployment of a force that should have been on the ground by now.

"There were no indications or any offers" of the helicopters military commanders say are essential for the planned EU military mission, Portuguese Defense Minister Nuno Severiano Teixeira said after chairing a meeting on the subject.

However, he said ministers expressed hope a meeting of military planners scheduled for today would fill the shortfalls in the EU plan to send almost 4,000 troops to the borders of Chad and the Central African Republic, neighbors to Sudan's Darfur.

"The council was unanimous on the need to launch this mission," Severiano Teixeira told a news conference.

For weeks the EU has struggled to muster the dozen or so helicopters needed to move European soldiers quickly around the vast borderlands. In addition, problems have hit a planned UN-African Union (AU) force of 26,000 for Darfur itself. The UN-AU force is supposed to take control of Darfur by the end of the year, but a top UN official said last week it would not be ready unless Sudan quickly accepted units from outside Africa and contributing countries offered helicopters and other critical equipment.

The EU had initially hoped to start deploying troops by the middle of this month, but now aims to send the first units in next month. General Henri Bentegeat, the EU's top soldier, last week warned of further delays if it does not get the helicopters.

The EU mission aims to deploy 3,700 soldiers to the border regions of Chad and the Central African Republic, with a 600-strong reserve based in Europe. About half of the troops would come from France.

In other developments, young supporters of Sudan's president are responding to his call for more recruits to northern militia, a political youth leader told state media yesterday, further raising tension after a north-south civil war.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir urged the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) to start training more mujahidin in a televised speech on Saturday.

Former rebels from Sudan's semi-autonomous south accused the president of "calling for war."

The PDF fought the south in a two-decade civil war until a shaky 2005 peace deal and were accused of a string of atrocities in Darfur.

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