One soldier is missing after a vehicle of the European Union’s military force in Chad (EUFOR) strayed across the border into Sudan and was fired on just days after the long-awaited peacekeeping force was deployed.
“[We] appeal for Sudanese assistance for information as to his possible whereabouts,” EUFOR Operational Commander Lieutenant General Patrick Nash said on 4 March in a statement.
A second French soldier was reportedly wounded but escaped back to Chad.
The incident took place on 3 March while the European force was conducting a patrol around the town of Tissi in the far south east corner of Chad where it borders Sudan and the Central African Republic.
EUFOR began deploying in February after delays partly caused by a rebel attack on Chad’s capital N’djamena. Some 14 European countries are sending a total of 3,700 troops for the mission.
Its mandate is restricted to eastern Chad and Central African Republic where it provides security to humanitarian aid workers and UN personnel assisting displaced people and Sudanese refugees.
Lieutenant General Nash said in the statement that he regretted that the vehicle “unintentionally” crossed into Sudan. “EUFOR carries out its mandate in full respect of the sovereignty of the Sudanese border,” he said.
The number of Sudanese crossing into eastern Chad has swelled in recent days following a new round of fighting in Darfur.
“Several thousand refugees have gathered [in eastern Chad] since the latest attacks in West Darfur began on February 8,” according to a report by the UN Refugee Agency issued on 26 February .
The French Press Agency (AFP) quoted Sudanese authorities as saying that “white, non-African” forces twice crossed into Darfur on Monday, “sparking deadly exchanges of fire”.
AFP also quoted France’s defence minister Herve Morin as saying that the attack on the EUFOR troops may not have been directed by Khartoum. “I think we find ourselves in a situation where soldiers whom we believe to have been Sudanese found themselves facing two men, two soldiers, and very likely out of reflex decided to use their weapons,” he said.
Sudan has previously expressed displeasure at Europe sending its troops to patrol near its border.
EUFOR’s Lieutenant General Nash said the on-going deployment of forces “remains unaffected” by the incident.