The United Nations (UN) Security Council gave preliminary support on Monday to a proposed peace force spearheaded by European Union (EU) troops to tackle spillover violence from Sudan's Darfur region in Chad and the Central African Republic.
In a unanimously approved statement, the 15-member council expressed readiness to authorize what it called a "multidimensional presence" in eastern Chad and the northeastern Central African Republic.
EU diplomats have said the force would deploy at the end of October at the earliest.
The conflict that flared in Sudan's western Darfur region four years ago after rebels took up arms against Khartoum has led to refugees being driven into neighboring countries by attacks by government-armed Janjaweed guerrillas.
This has created havoc in Chad and the Central African Republic and played into existing conflicts there. Both the Chadian and the Sudanese governments are accused of supporting each other's rebels.
According to UN figures there are some 400 000 Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians in Chad and 200 000 displaced people in the Central African Republic.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon originally wanted a UN peacekeeping force but Chadian President Idriss Deby opposed this. Deby later agreed to a force from the EU, which plans up to 3 000 military personnel for a year after which it hopes the world body will take over.
The UN is considering up to 300 international civilian police, some military observers and experts in human rights and legal affairs to back up the EU troops.
The Security Council must still formally authorize the mission in a resolution. French UN envoy Jean-Pierre Lacroix declined to say on Monday whether this would come before the EU Council of Ministers makes its final decision on September 17.
An EU-UN team is touring Chad and the Central African Republic and will return at the weekend. Lacroix told reporters that for Brussels it was "important to have this political signal" from Monday's statement.
France, with 3 000 air force personnel already in its former colony Chad, is expected to provide many of the troops for the EU force, which would complement a mission of up to 26 000 UN and African Union troops and police in Darfur itself. Approved by the Security Council last month, the Darfur force is yet to deploy.
The main purpose, Ban has said, would be to protect refugees and other civilians. In Chad the force would assist the delivery of aid while in the Central African Republic, where unemployed youth have formed armed gangs, it would try to block the transit of fighters between Sudan and Chad.