Unless the security situation along the 1,000 kilometre desert border between Chad and Sudan improves “drastically” aid agencies supporting 350,000 people in eastern Chad will be forced to pull out, the UN’s senior emergency coordination chief Jan Egeland has warned.
“The whole humanitarian operation is threatened by the onslaught of armed men, not only against the civilian population, but also against the humanitarians,” Egeland said in a statement issued in Geneva on Monday.
Egeland, who visited south Sudan, eastern Chad and the Chadian capital N’djamena last week, said the situation on the Chad-Sudan border was already “very tense, given the frequent cross-border excursions by armed soldiers from both sides who were attacking villagers in both countries”.
And whilst in N’djamena Egeland said he warned Chadian President Idriss Deby, that “unless the security situation along the borders improved drastically many of the organisations working there would have to pull out.”
Chad’s president Deby blames the Sudanese government in Khartoum for sponsoring rebel groups that vowed to overthrow him before he could run for a controversial third term in presidential elections on 3 May.
The most recent fight in a spate of battles since December was on 13 April, when militias drove across the vast desert country from bases in the east and south to launch a dawn attack on N’djamena that left over 200 soldiers and civilians dead.
After the April attack Deby cut diplomatic ties with Sudan and closed Chad’s main eastern border crossing at Adre.
Despite warnings of more attacks by the rebels and a boycott by the civil opposition, the elections passed off peacefully, and on Sunday Chad’s national election commission announced that Deby had won with more than three quarters of the vote.
But shortly after Egeland’s comments were released on Monday a Chadian government spokesperson announced that more fighting in Chad should be expected imminently.
“Sudan is preparing a new aggression against Chad,” said government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumgnor. “Arms and military equipment are being transported to [the capital of the neighbouring West Darfur region of Sudan] El Geneina, and new recruitment of militiamen is underway in Darfur”.
A new militia group being formed by Mahamat Nouri, the former Ambassador of Chad to Saudi Arabia, who defected to rebels opposed to Deby on 6 May, is paying men in Sudan US $250 each to join his group, according to Doumgnor.
The Chad government reports could not be immediately verified.
The Sudanese government has denied any responsibility for the fighting while Chad claims to have captured rebels who say they were recruited in Sudan.
A recent fact finding mission to Chad by the regional African Union organisation that was meant to provide an independent report on Sudan’s culpability in the 13 April attack has yet to publish its findings.
Senior UN representatives in Chad blame militia groups based in both Sudan and Chad for the frequent attacks on civilians, refugees and on their staff.
They have repeatedly called on the Chadian government to do more to fill what they call a “security vacuum” in the east of the vast desert country, which they say was caused by the redeployment of the Chadian national army away from the border.
In the most recent serious incident involving UN staff, on 5 May a worker with the UN children’s fund UNICEF was critically injured in a shooting and carjacking in the major eastern town Abeche. Gunmen have also occupied a refugee camp and held up food aid convoys.
The UN provides food and sanitation for 250,000 Sudanese refugees who fled fighting in the neighbouring Darfur region and are living in basic conditions in 12 camps in eastern Chad. The UN is also helping some of the 50,000 Chadians who say they have fled their villages in the east because of militia attacks, and around 50,000 refugees from the Central African Republic to the south.
The UN’s Egeland also noted that “hundreds” of additional refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) are arriving daily in southern Chad.
UN agencies have been warning for months that increasingly frequent attacks on their local and international staff were jeopardising aid operations.
Non-essential UN staff have been kept outside Chad since an evacuation order issued after the 13 April attacks on N’djamena.
The UN has nonetheless allocated an additional US $10 million for aid operations in eastern Chad from the Central Emergency Response Fund, Egeland said.