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VOICE OF AMERICA
SLUG: 5-55001 Chad/Sudan Refugees
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=3/8/04

TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT

TITLE=CHAD / SUDAN REFUGEES

NUMBER=5-55001

BYLINE=MICHAEL DRUDGE

DATELINE=OUENDALOU REFUGEE CAMP, CHAD

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

INTRO: Sudanese refugees in Chad say Arab militiamen backed by the Sudanese government continue to attack their villages in what they describe as a campaign of ethnic cleansing in western Sudan. V-O-A's Michael Drudge has visited the remote desert of eastern Chad to get a first-hand account of the refugees' story.

TEXT: ///OPEN WITH SFX OF WOMAN BUILDING A HUT AND FADE UNDER///

Sudanese refugees are living a precarious existence in the Chadian border village of Ouendalou (pron: wahn-dah-LOO), where they build makeshift straw huts on the scorching desert plain.

More than 13-hundred Sudanese have arrived at Ouendalou, and the nearby village of Mahamata (pron: mah-MAH-tah), in recent weeks. They are among an estimated 110-thousand refugees now living a hand-to-mouth existence in about 30 villages along a 600-kilometer strip of bleak and remote borderland in eastern Chad.

They have fled a war that began a year ago, when rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government in Sudan's western Darfur region. The rebels have formed two groups, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army.

The guerrillas claim the Arab-controlled government of President Omar Hassan al Bashir has ignored the needs of Darfur's predominately black African population.

The government is accused of giving arms and air support to an Arab militia, called the Janjaweed, in a campaign to drive out the blacks and establish an Arab stronghold in Darfur. The government denies those charges. It says the rebels' political grievances are contrived, and it dismisses the rebels as criminal gangs.

In mid-February, President al-Bashir declared the fighting over, and he said the government now controls all major population centers in Darfur.

However, recent arrivals at the refugee centers in Chad dispute his assertions.

Among them is Hawaya Abdullah Ibrahim, a 60-year-old widow who spoke with reporters at the Mahamata camp dispensary, where she was being treated for multiple wounds she had sustained a day earlier.

Her arms and legs were heavily bandaged. Mrs. Ibrahim says she was severely beaten by Janjaweed militiamen when she went to fetch water at the riverbed that forms the international boundary between Chad and Sudan, a few hundred meters from Ouendalou village.

///ESTABLISH IBRAHIM ARABIC ACT AND FADE UNDER TO ENGLISH TRANSLATION///

When I tried to go for water, I was met by four Janjaweed on horses. They were armed with guns and sticks. They asked me where the rebels are staying, and if they have guns or not. I told them I didn't know, and they beat me around my face, my arms and my legs. I will never go back to Sudan. I cannot go back again.

///END ACT///

Other refugees tell similar stories.

Yahamir Mohammad, a 52-year-old farmer, says he fled to Chad with his eight children and two wives to escape the Janjaweed.

///ESTABLISH MOHAMMAD ARABIC ACT AND FADE UNDER TO ENGLISH TRANSLATION///

I came here because the Janjaweed attacked us with guns and bombs. They took all our cattle and our house and everything we had. I cannot go home because there is no stability, there is no security in my country.

///END ACT///

He says he ekes out a living by cutting firewood and selling it in the town of Adre, about 20 kilometers away, where he buys food for his family.

Government officials in Adre say they are worried about the refugee influx and the cross-border raids. The secretary general of the regional government, Tahar Mohammad Ali, says Sudan is not responding to Chad's concerns.

///ESTABLISH ALI ARABIC ACT AND FADE UNDER TO ENGLISH TRANSLATION///

The Sudanese government gives weapons and ammunition to the Sudanese militia and those people cross our borders and steal our property and then they go back to Sudan. And that creates insecurity on our borders.

///END ACT///

Outside Adre, the Chadian army patrols the border region to try to fend off Janjaweed incursions.

An army pickup truck mounted with a 50-caliber machine gun stopped some journalists, including this reporter, who were traveling on a dusty desert track toward the village of Gongolo, where more refugees are camped.

The troops said they almost fired on the journalists' four-wheel drive vehicles, thinking they had been hijacked by the Janjaweed.

Government officials say Chadian President Idriss Deby, on a recent tour of the area, promised to send more troops to bolster the border defense forces. (Signed).

NEB/MWD/MAR /FC/MEM



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