Chad accuses UN of using its troops as 'shield' in Mali

Bamako (AFP) - The Chadian government on Friday denounced the "discriminatory" treatment of its troops in Mali, accusing the United Nations peacekeeping mission of using them as a "shield" after five were killed by a landmine.

That incident on Thursday brought to 10 the number of Chadian soldiers in the MINUSMA peacekeeping force killed in three incidents over two weeks in the rebel-infested northern district of Kidal.

"The Chadian government regrets that its contingent continues to maintain its position in northern Mali and doesn't get any leave. Worse still, our contingent is experiencing enormous difficulties securing adequate logistics, transport and food," the administration said in a statement.

The Chadian troops are being "used as a shield for the other forces of MINUSMA positioned further back," the statement added.

The government said it would give the UN mission a week to make the necessary changes to offer better protection to Chadian troops.

It warned that "after this time, Chad reserves the right to take appropriate action", without elaborating.

"Faced with this situation of insecurity and discrimination... the government is calling out the heads of MINUSMA and asking for fair and equal treatment for all forces in the operation," the government said.

The 2,000 Chadian soldiers entered the country in 2013 as part of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), at the forefront of a French-led military intervention to oust Islamist rebels.

Chad lost at least 38 men in the initial stages of the battle, with the heaviest fighting taking place in the northeastern Ifoghas mountains.

The MINUSMA peacekeeping force replaced AFISMA in July last year.

Complaints about pay and conditions have been a recurring feature of the Chadians' tenure in Mali.

A group of 160 Chadian MUNISMA troops deserted their posts in the northeastern town of Tessalit in September last year in a dispute over pay and conditions.

"We are fed up. MINUSMA thinks of our troops as cattle for jihadists. They really see us as sheep to sacrifice," a Chadian peacekeeper told AFP on Friday.

The latest deaths occurred near Aguelhok, a restive northern town 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of the regional capital Kidal.

"In Aguelhok our troops often sleep in their cars. They don't have adequate protection," the officer said.

He said soldiers in Aguelhok did not even have communications links to contact troops in other localities across the desert north.

"This is serious. We wonder if it's because we are black that we are not entitled to the same measure of protection as other troops," he added.

Another Chadian officer accused MINUSMA of a "great failure" in its chain of command.

"Even the way they announce the death of Chadians is different from the announcement of other deaths," he said.