Dáil Éireann - Volume 658 - 02 July, 2008

Written Answers. - Overseas Missions.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the incident that took place on 14 June 2008 in the vicinity of Goz Beida in Chad where Irish troops serving with EUFOR were fired upon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25446/08]

Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on the confrontation involving Irish personnel serving with EUFOR and armed elements at Goz Bedia in Chad. [26027/08]

Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Defence his views on two recent newspaper articles (details supplied) regarding the performance of Irish troops in Chad; if he is satisfied that the commanders understand their mandate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25849/08]

  Deputy Willie O’Dea: I propose to take Questions Nos. 87, 115 and 122 together.

As deputies will be aware, the days prior to my recent visit to Chad had been particularly tense in the region with ongoing clashes between Chadian Government troops and rebel forces. In response to these clashes, EUFOR immediately reinforced the area between the ongoing engagement and the IDP’s/refugee camps and sent ground and air reconnaissance elements to monitor the situation to ensure protection of the camps. Throughout Saturday 14 June 2008, Irish and Dutch troops operating in Goz Beida were deployed in and around Djabal Refugee Camp (approx 15,000 occupants) and four other sites for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) (approx 36,000 occupants). In the course of these clashes, a component of the Irish Forces which was deployed on observation post duties, received incoming fire from an unknown group. Irish personnel returned warning fire. There were no casualties.

At the height of the clashes, when over 250 Irish troops were deployed, a request for evacuation was made by UNHCR in Goz Beida town to the battalion HQ as they were “in imminent danger”. The Officer Commanding, acting on a military evacuation plan, tasked a platoon of Dutch Marines, accompanied by Irish personnel, to go to the UNHCR compound. When they arrived at the compound there were between 100-120 rebel forces in and surrounding the compound. Over the course of the following hour the Platoon acted extremely professionally and evacuated the UNHCR staff and retrieved five vehicles, which had been stolen by rebel forces. A total of 235 humanitarian personnel were evacuated by Irish and Dutch forces to [509] Camp Ciara, the headquarters of the 97th Infantry Battalion, where they were accommodated until it was safe for them to return to their own compounds. The Irish Forces maintained the protection of the Refugee and IDP Camps until the Government/Rebel clashes subsided and the engagement ceased.

When I visited Chad, I met with Mr. Victor Da Silva Angelo of Portugal, UN Special Representative of Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission (MINURCAT). The SRSG referred positively to the important role the Defence Forces had played in evacuating and providing safety and shelter for the humanitarian workers in Goz Beida. On 18 June 2008, the UNHCR apologised for the confusion caused by remarks published in a report in The Irish Times on that date, when a UNHCR spokeswoman criticised Irish troops serving in Chad. UNHCR appreciates the role EUFOR and the Irish forces are playing to protect refugees, displaced people and aid workers in the difficult and dangerous environment in Chad. MINURCAT also issued a press statement in this regard. I have accepted the apology and the matter is now closed. Irish troops will continue with their operations and will co-operate with and support the NGOs and the International Organisations throughout the Defence Forces deployment with EUFOR.

The Irish personnel are already making a significant difference on the ground and are enhancing Ireland’s international reputation as neutral, impartial and professional peacekeepers. During my recent visit to Chad, I was very impressed by the motivation being shown by our troops in the performance of their duties, their energy and the good atmosphere in the camp generally. I want to assure the House that the personnel of the 97th Infantry Battalion know the job that they are there to do. There is no misunderstanding of EUFOR’s mandate, which includes contributing to the protection of civilians in danger, particularly refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the protection of UN personnel. I am satisfied that EUFOR is discharging its mandate in a professional and impartial manner.

Question No. 88 withdrawn.