UN claims over Chad withdrawal rejected
The authorities in Dublin last night hit back at claims by the United Nations that the decision to withdraw Irish peacekeeping troops from Chad had upset "delicate" talks on a renewal of the mission's mandate.
Senior security sources were annoyed at the critical comments and said the UN had been unable to give any indication that the mission could continue after May.
The Government decided on an early withdrawal of troops from Chad to avoid them being trapped there by the four-month rainy season without a mandate.
Government officials have been in contact with the United Nations on a regular basis since January, after it emerged that Chadian President Idriss Deby was strongly opposed to a renewal of the mandate for peacekeeping troops.
The claims were made by an anonymous UN official in New York. But sources told the Irish Independent the under-secretary general at the UN's peacekeeping department, Alain Le Roy, had not mentioned any delicate talks to Defence Minister Tony Killeen during their discussions in the past week.
Mr Le Roy had also been unable to give any positive signs that the mandate was likely to be renewed in May.
One senior source said : "It is irritating to hear those comments from the official. The message to us was that there was great uncertainty about what was going to happen.
"Mr Le Roy was unable to give anything to Mr Killeen that could be termed optimistic.
"This decision was never about money but was based mainly on the safety of the troops. We faced a scenario where, if we waited much longer, troops would have been unable to dismantle the camp at Goz Beida and make a withdrawal before the rainy season arrives in May.
"That would have left our soldiers out there, without a mandate or any proper medical back-up, until the rainy season ended in September.
"There seems to be a problem in the UN in understanding the logistical problems in Chad. In the rainy season nobody moves, and if we didn't get out in time, the troops would have been stranded there."
Mr Killeen said yesterday he was prepared to reconsider the decision if the UN could assure within the next week that the mandate would be renewed.
However, there are no indications that Mr Deby is likely to change his stance as he has been insisting the UN peacekeepers should pull out for the past three months.
Fine Gael's defence spokesman, Jimmy Deenihan, said last night that Mr Killeen had serious questions to answer about the manner in which he directed the troops to withdraw. He said Ireland's reputation as a nation of peacekeepers would be severely damaged by the decision to pull out.
And he also claimed the decision had pulled the rug from under the UN at a critical stage of negotiations on the mandate.
However, security sources said the prospects for a renewal of the mandate had been bleak for some time, despite a visit to Chad by Mr Le Roy.
About half of the main body of the troops are expected to be flown home before the end of the month and the rest the following week.