Killeen's withdrawal of Chad troops 'premature'
SOLDIERS on a peacekeeping mission in Chad believe that the new Defence Minister has acted prematurely in ordering that the force be withdrawn.
Tony Killeen decided on an early withdrawal of troops from the African country to avoid them being trapped there by the four-month rainy season without a UN mandate.
It means that only 70 Irish soldiers will be left serving overseas instead of the 850 authorised.
However, unnamed officials in the UN have claimed the decision to pull out has upset "delicate" talks on a renewal of the mission's mandate.
"There is a feeling that the minister acted prematurely, and there is hope that he might yet row back on it," a Defence Forces source told the Irish Independent.
"The problem is there is up to €50m worth of equipment and it takes two days by road to get to it, so there was a danger of losing it if they pulled out at short notice because of issues over a mandate.
"Perhaps this might get the UN moving on the mandate."
The soldiers' representative association, Pdforra, has met with Mr Killeen to express its concern.
"We impressed on the minister the need to keep his options open on the Chad issue, especially if the mandate is to be renewed by the UN," Simon Devereaux, deputy general secretary of PDFORRA, said yesterday.
"If we pull our troops from the mission in Chad, we will have roughly 70 people on overseas missions at the end of this year, the lowest since the early '60s."
Earlier this year, the president of Chad indicated that he was strongly opposed to a renewal of the mandate.
Government sources have indicated that Mr Killeen was in discussion with the UN peacekeeping department in the past week.
The source said that there was huge uncertainty, and the UN were unable to give any optimistic views on a further mandate so the decision was made to withdraw the troops.
"I hope the minister will keep this issue of Chad under review and, if the mandate is extended, I want him to revisit this matter with Government," Mr Devereaux said yesterday.
"We also noted the minister's comments in the media yesterday when he referred to the vast potential for overseas service in different parts of the world, and with the Irish commitment potentially down to less than 100 troops, we will expect him to look at this matter more closely in the weeks ahead."