An attack on border villages in eastern Chad early Monday morning left four dead and six wounded, said UN workers, deepening concern that violence from the neighbouring Darfur region of Sudan is destabilising south eastern Chad.
“Three small settlements near the larger village of Dalola, were surrounded by Janjawid. Some were seen in military uniform others in military attire,” said Matthew Conway, spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.
“The Janjawid opened fire on them and the gunfire lasted one hour. Afterwards they were seen heading south east towards Koukou and the border. Initial reports show four dead and six wounded by bullets. They have been brought to the health centre at Goz Amer refugee camp,” said Conway adding that 1,000 head of cattle were raided in the attack.
Dalola, which is not marked on most maps, lies near Koukou some 80 km from the Sudanese border and the troubled Darfur region.
Conflict erupted in Darfur in February 2003 and fighting and refugees have repeatedly spilled into eastern Chad since. Darfur rebels say they took up arms over Khartoum’s discrimination and oppression of the region. The government is accused of unleashing militia - known as the Janjawid - on civilians in an attempt to quash the rebellion.
Local authorities had been aware of the Janjawid’s arrival in the region since Sunday, said aid workers.
According to analysts, a recent spate of attacks in South Darfur could indicate a new military offensive by the Sudanese government.
Since December there have been a growing number of attacks on villages and refugee camps in eastern Chad where some 200,000 Darfurians have sought shelter from conflict, according to UN figures.
Fighting in eastern Chad has displaced some 50,000, estimate aid workers, and the number of those seeking assistance from international aid agencies has tripled to 11,000 over the last month.
“Attacks like this are only making things worse, and the fact that this attack was so close to where IDPs [Internally Displaced People] and refugees are already gathered is a situation we have feared for some time. Today it seems to be coming a reality,” said UNHCR’s Conway.
In early April a refugee camp at Goz Amer, which is around 10 kilometres from the scene of Monday’s attacks, was occupied overnight by armed rebels.
Chad’s government has repeatedly accused the Sudanese government in Khartoum of sponsoring militia groups to destabilise its country. In mid-April it cut diplomatic relations with Sudan and closed the main border crossing at Adre. Sudan has denied the allegations.