The Italian Almanac

Darfur refugees

Field Hospital in Chad

A medical team of some 20 Italian military personnel is already in Chad to set up a field hospital to help Darfur refugees, defence sources said. The team is an advance party of an Italian contingent which will number about 100 people who will operate a field hospital in Chad's capital N'djamena.The contingent is part of a European mission to Chad and the Central African Republic which European Union foreign ministers agreed to deploy in response to United Nations Resolution 1778.

The EU force will total some 3,700 military personnel from 14 countries. France is sending in the greatest number of troops, between 2,000 and 2,100 men, while other countries taking part include the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland. Italy has also promised to contribute a platoon of communications experts.

The aim of the 12-month mission, the largest of its kind by the EU, is to secure the eastern areas in Chad and the Central African Republic which border with Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region, prevent the spread of violence and assist refugees. The EU mission will have its headquarters in Abeche', the biggest city in eastern Chad which is already hosting a number of international humanitarian missions. The commander of the EU force, Irish Lieutenant-General Patrick Nash, has said that he expects the force to be fully operational by the middle of May and that his troops will return fire if fired upon.

The conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur broke out in 2003 and since then at least 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million driven from their homes. Observers said the conflict is ethnic and tribal in origin, pitting the country's Arab population, reportedly backed by the government, against the black African population.