The Security Council on Wednesday put off for two weeks a decision on the future of U.N. peacekeepers in poor and violence-ridden Chad, which wants the peacekeepers to leave.
The current mandate of the force, known by its French acronym MINURCAT, expires on Saturday. In a move known in U.N. jargon as a technical rollover, a brief council resolution extended the mandate until May 26, saying proposals for the force needed thorough consideration.
The main tasks of the mission are to protect civilians and secure supplies of food and other aid to refugees in the Northeast of the drought-hit central African country, a region known for lawlessness and banditry.
U.N. officials say there are about half a million refugees in the area, half of them from the turbulent Darfur region of neighboring Sudan and the rest from Chad and the Central African Republic. They say withdrawing MINURCAT too soon would leave the refugees vulnerable.
Chad's President Idriss Deby asked the Security Council earlier this year not to renew the mandate of the mission, saying it had not fully deployed and had failed to protect civilians or build promised infrastructure projects.
Since then, the United Nations has sent three teams to try to persuade Deby to allow a gradual withdrawal of the force, which the world body says needs government consent to stay.
In a recent report to the council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed that MINURCAT be authorized to stay on for another year, but with a changed mandate.
The force would immediately hand to Chadian authorities responsibility for protecting civilians and cut its numbers in Chad from the current 3,300 -- about two thirds of its originally intended strength -- to 1,900. Those remaining would cease all operations on Oct. 15 and themselves start leaving.
U.N. diplomats said members of the council had postponed a decision because they had not had enough time to study Ban's report, which was delivered to them on April 29.
One diplomat said, "I think everyone is more or less agreed that 1,900 troops, as suggested by the secretary-general, is the way forward."
But he added, "The devil is in the details. In what context are we going to mention protection of civilians? Do the Chadians have the ability to do it? What would happen if there were a threat?"
The prospect of MINURCAT leaving has concerned the U.N. World Food Program, which said last week that Chad would have to provide a "a mobile and efficient force" to protect its convoys. The WFP says up to 2.5 million people lack adequate nutrition in Chad.
Chad, a former French colony, is near the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index, a composite benchmark that includes literacy rates, life expectancy and economic wealth.
ReutersLast Mod: 12 Mayıs 2010, 23:03