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12,000 refugees flee Darfur for Chad

Latest update : 2008-02-10

Some 12,000 people from Sudan's Darfur region have crossed the border into neighbouring Chad after heavy bombardments and armed attacks by Sudanese forces and the Janjaweed militia, the UN refugee agency said on Sunday.

Heavy bombardment and armed attacks in Darfur by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militia on Friday and Saturday have forced 12,000 refugees to flee into eastern Chad, the UN refugee agency said.
  
The refugees have fled to the Birak region, UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Helene Caux told AFP on Sunday.
  
Eastern Chad remains highly volatile after recent fighting between Chadian government and rebel forces, which led the UNHCR to evacuate staff from the country and thousands of Chadians to cross to neighbouring Cameroon, she said.
  
However, the fresh refugees from Darfur "have been through the worst already," she added.
  
Her colleague Catherine Huck, who runs UNHCR's operations in the Chadian eastern town of Abeche, stressed the difficulties that recent unrest in Chad itself have created for aid workers.
  
Last weekend saw rebels enter Njdamena and surround the presidential palace before retreating, leaving at least 160 people dead.
  
"We are already operating in an environment where security is spiralling downwards, where the supply line from NDjamena is cut after recent fighting, and where our field offices are running short of fuel," Huck said in a statement.
  
"Getting newly arrived refugees away from the border into camps, is a real challenge," she added.
  
The UNHCR is sending an assessment team to the region and hopes to move people by truck to existing camps for Darfur refugees on Monday or Tuesday, she said.
  
Some 30,000 Darfur refugees already live in two camps in the Guereda area in eastern Chad, while a further 58,000 refugees are in three camps around Iriba.
  
Once safely in the camps, the newly arrived refugees will be given sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen sets, the UNHCR said.
  
The Sudanese army on Saturday confirmed its troops had carried out military operations in western Darfur and regained control of three communities, pushing out rebels to Chad.
  
"Army forces carried out large-scale operations combing the areas of Abu Suruj, Serba and Salia," army spokesman Othman Mohammed al-Agbash told the official news agency SUNA, referring to areas in western Darfur.
  
The Justice and Equality Movement rebels said that Sudanese troops backed by Janjaweed militia had attacked the three communities north of Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, killing dozens of civilians on Friday.
  
JEM commander Abdel Aziz Nur al-Asher told AFP by telephone then that soldiers with 65 vehicles, backed by air support, launched the first attack alongside 600 Janjaweed fighters on camels.
  
He later said Sirba and Salia, also north of Geneina, had also come under attack, with Antonov fixed wing aircraft and combat helicopters taking part.
  
The latest unrest comes after a senior UN official warned on Friday that a reported proxy war between Sudan and Chad through rebel groups on each side of their border threatened to destabilise the region and lead to a wider conflict.

Date created : 2008-02-10

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