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Austrian defense minister hails success of EU miss

austriantimes.at
Social Democrat (SPO) Defence Minister Norbert Darabos has said the Austrian mission in Chad in central Africa has increased security and helped refugees there. Austria has had 160 soldiers in Chad as part of the EU peacekeeping mission (EUFOR) there for the past year. They have been protecting refugees, many from neighbouring Sudan but also a number from Chad, from attacks by Sudanese militias. EUFOR has a total of 2,000 soldiers Darabos said today (Weds): "The EUFOR mission in Chad has accomplished its mission. Security in the region has improved, and half a million refugees have been protected from violence." The minister had earlier said continued Austrian participation made sense. The refugees still needed protection, he claimed, adding that Africa was important to Europe in terms of politics and security. "Developments in Africa have an impact on Europe," he added. Darabos acknowledged the Austrian military needed to save money but asserted foreign missions were one of its "pillars" and an area in which the country was "a European leader." Austria has agreed to participate in the new UN mission (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad or MINURCAT) that will replace EUFOR as of Sunday, 15 March. MINURCAT will have 5,000 soldiers. Peoples Party (OVP) Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said recently the UN had urgently requested Austrian participation in MINURCAT. Lieutenant General Othmar Commenda, the deputy chief of the Austrian general staff, will represent Austria at a ceremony on Sunday in Abeche marking the end of EUFOR and the beginning of MINURCAT. Austria will provide 130 soldiers for the new UN mission. They will be engaged in the logistical work of transporting goods to refugees in the eastern part of Chad. The Austrian defence ministry has said soldiers from Ireland, Poland, Finland and France will also participate in MINURCAT. The UN Security Council unanimously approved MINURCAT early this year. Austrian ministers approved continuation of Austrias Chad mission until 15 March 2010 in February. The mission was scheduled to end on 15 March 2009. The Austrian defence ministry claimed in February the cost of Austrias Chad mission had been far lower than expected. A ministry spokesman said the missions cost through the end of 2008 had been 19 million Euros rather than the 32 million Euros Darabos had cited in parliament in summer 2008. The spokesman attributed that surprising development to the cost-efficient nature of the mission. He added the figure of 50 million Euros recently cited by Vienna daily "Kronen Zeitung" on the basis of contacts with ministry sources had been wide of the mark by far. The spokesman said: "Our initial estimate of 25 million Euros for 2008 was too high since the "first mission" is always more cost-intensive." The ministry has put a figure of 10 million Euros on mission costs this year. The spokesman said such a moderate estimate was the result of a planned reduction in the number of Austrians currently in Chad from 160 to 130 and the UNs agreement to pay part of the cost of Austrias participation in MINURCAT. Some 1,300 Austrian soldiers are participating in international peacekeeping missions on the Golan Heights and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Georgia.
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