Irish troops have started deploying in Chad, Africa, as part of an European Union peace mission to protect hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn Darfur region.
A contingent of 450 Irish peacekeepers will help to secure refugee camps in the tense Chadian border with Sudan's Darfur region, where the situation is increasingly unstable.
Ireland is one of the major contributors to the EU peacekeeping mission with 450 troops as part of a 4,000 multi-nation force from 14 European countries. The EU force will also be commanded by an Irish general, Lieutenant Pat Nash.
The war in Darfur has already taken the lives of more than 250,000 people and displaced more than two million. An estimated number of 400,000 refugees are currently housed in camps in the central African nation of Chad.
Eastern Chad has a similar ethnic make-up to Darfur, where Sudan-backed muslim militias are accused of carrying out a genocide against black Africans.
The Irish military expects this to be one of the most difficult missions undertaken since the UN mission to Congo in 1960. Rebel militias have warned that foreign soldiers deployed in Chad, including the Irish, will be seen as enemy forces.
An advance contingent of 50 members of the Irish Army Ranger wing and engineers will be preparing the camp for the main group of 400 soldiers which will travel to the region in March or April.
The Chad mission will be the most expensive ever undertaken by the Irish Defence Forces. Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea announced that the overall cost of the military operation is expected to be €57 million in 2008.
Read more at Military.ie, Ireland's Defence Forces