Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Peacekeeping, but for whom?

Today 160 Irish defence force troops will journey from the capital of Chad to their AOR almost 1,000 kms away on the Chad/Sudanese border. They are the first in a 400 strong contingent mandated to protect some 400,000 refugees and IDPs made homeless from fighting in Sudan and the border region.

The deployment fits all the requirements of the triple lock arrangement fixed into the Irish law. It has a UN mandate and it was agreed by the Government and the Dail. Although given that the Government will have an in built Dáil majority surely this “triple lock” is really just a “double lock”.

The coverage from the mainstream media on this has focused mainly on the logistics of it and little on the politics of it.

The mission is part of the EU peacekeeping force and the UN Secretary General himself made the appeal for troops.

Obviously the very nature of soldiering entails some risk and danger and so no one is realistically expecting that the Irish soldiers will be welcomed with open arms by all. Peacekeeping is rarely truly neutral and one if not all domestic combatants will feel at some point that UN peacekeepers are biased.

Accusations of bias were constantly levelled against Irish peacekeepers as part of the UNIFIL mission by Israel and the Serb minority in Kosova has made similar unfair calls.

But this is different. Irish troops have been deployed to Chad and from the day they arrive our Minister of Defence and his EU counterparts have placed them in a much compromised position.

Headlines that point out how the mission is commanded by an Irish General, it is routinely omitted to note that some EU troops are already in Country.

In 2005 France, at the request of the Chadian president Idriss Deby sent additional troops to bring a total of 1,300 French military personnel in the capital.

Neutrality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Willie O’Dea would have us believe that the Chadian rebels in the Toyota flatbeds whose stronghold is in Ireland’s AOR are going to recognise the visibly subtle difference between the EU troops sent to protect refugees and the EU troops sent to prop up their enemy.

It’s delusional to hope that they will. To them the French and Irish EU troops will be seen as one and the same. White Europeans siding with an unpopular leader with extremely dubious democratic credentials.

If there is any doubt see what UFDD leader, Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye, had to say about the EU peacekeepers “We will view the European soldiers as enemies, whether they are French or Austrian. For us all European units on our territory are enemies because they came to defend the dictator Idriss Deby."

By all means Ireland should take on assertive peace enforcement missions but we should have never agreed to contribute troops as long as France had troops acting as an illegitimate government’s Praetorian Guard. It puts the reputation and lives of Irish men at risk and threatens to further erode our neutral status.

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