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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
18 January 2007

CHAD: Aid agencies still on war footing as insecurity continues

NDJAMENA, 18 Jan 2007 (IRIN) - Aid agencies in eastern Chad that had scaled down during heavy fighting in mid-November are still operating at minimum levels, despite a lull in hostilities because of lingering fears of hijackings and armed attacks.

A rebel attack on the region’s aid hub, Abeche, from where United Nations agencies and NGOs run operations for some 330,000 Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians, forced a hasty evacuation of staff in late November.

Fighting from Darfur had spilled over the border earlier that month, and there had been combat close to several of the 12 refugee camps the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) runs in eastern Chad.

Although there have not been major skirmishes between the army and rebels in Chad for at least six weeks or repeats of the spillover, Nick Ireland, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator, said access is still “really tough”, especially in the north where the heaviest fighting took place in November, and the south of the region where inter-communal violence has forced some 100,000 people to flee their homes, including 50,000 in the last six months.

“It’s difficult to know who is responsible for the insecurity of the displaced, whether or not we are being targeted, and that complicates delivering aid,” he said, adding that Oxfam’s country representative was recently held up in a carjacking near the southeastern town Goz Beida.

Oxfam has been maintaining minimum services with 10 international staff for the last six weeks, compared to 25 previously.

Likewise, UNHCR is still operating at minimum levels since evacuating some 30 percent of its staff in November.

“The biggest problem it presents is the difficulty of maintaining the humanitarian and civilian character of the refugee camps,” said Matthew Conway, UNHCR spokesman in Abeche. “The simple fact of having an international humanitarian presence does provide a dissuasive element.”

Earlier this month, a refugee camp at Goz Amer in the southeast was surrounded by Arab tribesmen, but the standoff ended without violence. Also in January, two refugees were killed in Guereda camp, in the north. Rebel fighters from Sudan regularly enter the refugee camps to visit their families and rest, aid agencies say.

“All along the concern has been that Sudan will decide that the camps are so militarised that they constitute a legitimate military target, which we want to avoid at all costs, and most refugees too,” Conway said.

The Chadian government has proposed moving the refugee camps further west, away from the border, but surveying of the proposed new sites in December found only one of six zones in the arid and remote desert region had sufficient underground water reserves.

UNHCR has also been unable to reach displaced Chadians who have congregated around Ade, 260 km southeast of Abeche, close to the Sudan border.

Chadian President Idriss Deby spent a week based in Goz Beida in early January where he “oversaw” military operations and pledged to allocate 4 billion CFA (US $8 million) to provide security and assistance to the displaced Chadians.

An official in Deby’s office confirmed on Thursday that a regiment of soldiers has been sent to the Goz Beida area to distribute food, patrol the villages, and disarm locals. “The situation is calm now,” said the official, who asked for anonymity.

International aid agency staff confirmed that distributions of food, medicines and shelter equipment have started near Goz Beida and another southeastern town, Am Timan, but expressed concern about the quality and targeting of the aid.

Chadian soldiers last year were blamed for several violent attacks on relief workers and the hijacking of several aid agency vehicles.

While aid agencies have slimmed down, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which traditionally steps in during times of conflict, confirmed it has increased operations in eastern Chad since hostilities commenced. It is providing assistance to war wounded and prisoners, and helping some 40,000 displaced Chadians.

In New York on Wednesday, the UN Security Council adopted a presidential statement requesting the sending this month of a team to eastern Chad to prepare for the possible deployment of UN peacekeepers. A previous team concluded that peacekeepers should not be deployed in Chad because the region is too dangerous, but the Security Council has asked for a reassessment of that recommendation.



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2007

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