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Cablegate: Abeche: Eastern Chad Hub for the Un, Ngos and Any

VZCZCXYZ0045
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHNJ #0199/01 0611557
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021557Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY NDJAMENA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4999
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1662
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 2127
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0966

UNCLAS NDJAMENA 000199

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR PRM/AF/GPARKER, AF/C/MASHRAF, S/CRS/JBEIK/JVANCE
LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREF PREL KCRS KPKO CD SU
SUBJECT: ABECHE: EASTERN CHAD HUB FOR THE UN, NGOS AND ANY
PKO FORCE SENT TO CHAD

1. (u) Summary. Abeche is the major city in eastern Chad,
used as a hub by the UN agencies and international
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work in the
region. Security remains an issue, with the UN still drawn
down to essential personnel only (Phase IV)). UN and NGO
staff favor a strong UN force, even though its presence would
likely increase their costs of operating in Abeche. End
summary.

Background
----------

2. (U) Abeche is the principal city in the East, and the
fourth largest city in Chad. Its population in 1993 was
54,628 (Note. There has been no city census since then;
however, extrapolating based on an annual 3.1% growth rate,
the population now would be about 83,800. End note). It has
a national museum and two modern campuses. Abeche's history
goes back hundreds of years, and it became the capital of the
Ouaddai Sultanate in the early 19th century when the former
capital ran out of water, remaining the capital until the
French arrived. Today, water and electrical utilities are
very spotty. Overall, Abeche is an undeveloped city with
little infrastructure, located in the rugged Sahel.

3. (U) No refugee or IDP camps are located in or near Abeche
itself, but it is the administrative and logistical hub for
humanitarian activities in eastern Chad. If the UN does
establish a peace-keeping operation (PKO) for eastern Chad,
it would most likely be headquartered in Abeche as well.

4. (SBU) Abeche has a paved 10,000 foot runway just north of
the city. The airport houses an Chadian National Army (ANT)
helicopter detachment, a French military detachment of over
200 personnel, and the aircraft that fly around eastern Chad
transporting UN and NGO staffs, and their many visitors. Due
to problems obtaining visas and permission to enter Sudan and
go to Darfur, many visitors transit Abeche instead, on their
way to visit Darfur refugee camps in eastern Chad. Visitors
in the last few weeks included the UN Human Rights Commission
delegation that was refused permission to enter Sudan, UNICEF
Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador
Angelina Jolie, as well as a former French prime minister and
a French author.

Security in Abeche
------------------

5. (SBU) Although Chadian rebels did briefly occupy Abeche
last November, most UN and NGO staffers there think it
unlikely that it will be attacked again. There is a sizable
ANT garrison in the city, and there are often attack
helicopters at the airport. In addition, most interlocutors
believe that the rebels are weaker now than they were several
months ago.

6. (SBU) However, Government of Chad (GoC) capacity is weak.
One interlocutor estimated that there are eight to ten
murders each month in Abeche, usually committed by the ANT.
The ANT is not well-disciplined, and some soldiers harass
locals, who are afraid of them. There is no functioning
judicial system and therefore no serious investigations or
criminal trials. There is also the perception that the GoC
is not spending any development funds in eastern Chad
(actually, not outside of Ndjamena itself). At the same
time, there are also many heavily armed Sudanese rebels in
the city wearing similar uniforms. It's not clear if the
authorities know or care about their presence.

Security in Eastern Chad
------------------------

7. (SBU) The UN remains in Phase IV security posture in
eastern Chad (only essential personnel allowed to remain).
At the refugee and IDP camps, only a fraction of the UNHCR
staffs are present. Most NGOs follow UN guidelines and are
also at minimum manning. The UN and the NGOs all have
curfews for their staffs, with some as early as 5:15 p.m.
However, one NGO, Oxfam, returned to Phase III about four
weeks ago and has increased its staff out east.

8. (SBU) There are serious security concerns in eastern
Chad, especially southeast of Abeche, due to either rebel
activity or simple bandits, and all travel has to be cleared
daily with the UN security officer in Abeche. He reported
that one day about two weeks ago was exceptionally quiet, so

the UN took advantage of that to stage as many ground convoys
as possible that day. While most interlocutors did not think
the rebels were strong enough to attack Abeche again, no one
discounted their ability to make harassing attacks anywhere
or to carjack SUVs.

Effects of a UN Peace-Keeping Force
-----------------------------------

9. (SBU) All UN and NGO staffers questioned wanted a strong
UN force deployed as soon as possible, with the mandate to
protect refugees, IDPs, and humanitarian workers, due to the
current security situation. Most hadn't considered the issue
whether such a force would be perceived by Chadian rebels as
being pro-GoC, but those that had considered it a definite
possibility. Interlocutors were aware of the logistical and
manpower requirements outlined in the Secretary General's
most recent report (from obtaining water to finding 800
Chadian gendarmes), and privately do not think a force is
feasible on that scale.

10. (SBU) One side effect of a PKO would be its effect on
Abeche itself. The airport tarmac is already crowded (Emboff
observed 11 aircraft on the tarmac at one point, including a
French C-160 Transall, a French helicopter, an ANT attack
helicopter, plus the various UN, NGO, and transient
aircraft).

11. (SBU) Housing prices in Abeche are already highly
inflated. One room of a three bedroom house in western
Abeche could be sub-let from the German agency, GTZ, for
approximately USD 100 per month, plus USD 24 to help pay for
the guards, and some amount to help pay for generator fuel
(most residences do not run generators during the day, just
at night). A new three bedroom house being built between the
airport and the UNHCR compound was asking in the range of USD
$1,000 per month. There are new houses under construction.
By comparison, lodging at a UNHCR guest house (where Emboffs
usually remain overnight) costs approximately USD 27 per
night. However, the insertion of a large PKO, headquartered
in Abeche, would drive real estate prices up significantly,
making it more expensive for UN agencies and NGOs to operate
there. The resulting increase in visitors would also at the
same time make it more difficult to obtain UNHCR guest
quarters. Assuming the force's presence led to the
reinstatement of Phase III, then even more UN and NGO staff
would return to Abeche, adding to the housing congestion.

12. (U) On the other hand, it might stimulate the local
economy in other ways. The current UN and NGO international
population does not appear to be big enough to have created
any businesses catering to them, such as western-type
markets, souvenir shops, restaurants or internet cafes.
While a PKO force here would boost local employment, the
drawback is that it would cause an inflationary effect on
food prices, which would adversely affect the local
population.

Comment
-------

12. (SBU) Abeche will remain the hub for the UN agencies and
NGOs serving in eastern Chad. If a UN PKO does deploy there
(currently blocked by President Deby), it will be welcomed by
the UN and NGOs, but will compete with them for airport
tarmac space and the renting of housing and office compounds.
WALL

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