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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
04 December 2006

CHAD: UN evacuations continue as fighting hits Guereda

NDJAMENA, 4 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - The town of Guereda in eastern Chad has become the latest battleground in a string of skirmishes between the government and rebels that have forced aid workers helping Sudanese refugees to flee.

Armed rebels attacked Guereda and a military barracks there, 165 kilometres northeast of the regional aid and military hub Abeche on Saturday, according to a government statement declaring a defeat of the insurgents.

Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor, Chadian government spokesperson, said in the statement on Saturday that: "The forces of defence and security have energetically repelled and pursued these mercenaries."

Counter-claims on Saturday by the rebels that they still controlled the town could not be verified, as has been the trend with most events in the sparsely populated, inhospitable remote desert region. A military source that asked not to be named confirmed on Monday that government loyalists had recaptured Guereda.

Heavy fighting between rebels and army loyalists in the towns of Ade, Biltine, Goz Beida, Abeche and Am-Timan in the last two months has each time been followed by a swift rebel retreat into the desert.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) runs 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad for over 220,000 people who have fled fighting in neighbouring Sudan, including three camps around Guereda housing 25,000 people.

On Wednesday, Chadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmat Allam-mi proposed that UNHCR relocate its refugee camps closest to the border with Sudan to two new sites further inland.

Chad's government has accused the Sudanese government in Khartoum of backing the rebels opposed to it. Sudanese President Omar al-Bahir has frequently denied the charge.

A UNHCR spokesperson could not be reached to comment on the weekend's fighting or on the government's proposal to move the camps.

Violent attacks on UN and NGO staff, more than 40 vehicle hijackings, and increasingly frequent attacks on Chadian settlements have all been cited as reasons for a scaling down of the UN's presence in the region, despite tens of thousands of Chadians being displaced by fighting in addition to the Sudanese refugees.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement on Sunday that based on the security situation, WFP, UNHCR and NGOs had "stepped up" an operation to evacuate non-essential staff from the worst affected areas.

WFP nonetheless said that its food handouts in the refugee camps were not being affected and its overland supply routes were still open, with enough food in the camps to last into December. Some distributions to displaced Chadians around Dogdore and Ade were put on hold because of the insecurity, but "will resume as soon as the situation improves," WFP said.



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