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SUDAN-CHAD: Fear of reprisal attacks

Dakar, 4 April 2007 (IRIN) - The weekend attack on two villages in eastern Chad is the worst assault in nearly six months in the region and relief officials worry that reprisals will follow, claiming more lives and triggering the flight of thousands of more people.

“We really haven’t seen anything of this magnitude since October of last year,” Matthew Conway, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) told IRIN on Wednesday. “We’re very concerned that it will lead to another round of reprisal attacks where one community feels it has to take some kind of vengeance on the other.”

The attacks on the villages of Tiero and Marena left more than 70 people wounded and claimed at least 65 lives in the village of Tiero alone, said UNHCR.

“We’re very worried that that number is going to continue to climb as we get access to other areas,” Conway said. “There are reports of people still hiding in the bush. We were getting reports of ambushes being set up by the attackers to get anyone who may have escaped the initial attack. We even have reports of people fleeing to Darfur. Anyone fleeing to Darfur in the current circumstances is an indication of how desperate they must be.”

The Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan has been in turmoil for about four years with janjawid militia carrying out a scorched earth policy that has driven more than two million people from their homes and claimed tens of thousands of lives, according to relief officials and human rights groups.

The Chadian government on Monday blamed the janjawid for the attacks on Tiero and Marena last weekend. But relief workers say identifying the assailants is not that clear-cut.

“Eyewitness or survivor reports indicate that these are not solely foreigners” carrying out the attacks, Conway said. “There is implication of Chadian communities in these attacks. Some of these assailants are known to the victims. There is talk that this latest attack was some kind of vengeance attack for murders alleged to have been committed by the group that was under attack this weekend.”

UNHCR said between 2,000 and 3,000 people had arrived at the Goz Amir refugee camp near the town of Koukou, about 45km east of the two villages, where they are receiving food and other aid. The camp shelters more than 19,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur. The Chadian government said up to 8,000 people were displaced by the weekend violence.

Survivors told UNHCR and other relief agencies that men on horseback, camels and in vehicles surrounded their villages and opened fire. Most of the people arriving at Goz Amir are women and children.

Conway said it was difficult to accurately assess the situation at present because people scattered in so many different directions. In addition, he said, many people were buried in a mass grave so it is unclear how many additional people might have been killed.

The UN says at least 140,000 displaced Chadians and 235,000 Sudanese refugees are now sheltering in the barren eastern deserts of Chad, while emergency relief NGOs and UN agencies are struggling to support them because of ongoing fighting and attacks on them.

The UN Security Council last month voted to send a peacekeeping mission to Chad to protect civilians and guard the border until fighting is stopped. The UN mission was almost immediately stalled when Chad’s government said it would not accept any military presence on its soil, only civilian police.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday called on the Chadian government to accept a UN force in eastern Chad.

“The Chadian government is clearly failing in its duty to protect its civilians affected by conflict in eastern Chad,” said Tawanda Hondora, a deputy director in Amnesty’s Africa programme, in a statement.

John Holmes, the UN emergency relief coordinator, warned last week that the international community is dragging its feet on funding for humanitarian operations in Chad and is “underestimating” the scale of the crisis there.

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Theme (s): Conflict, Food Security, Health & Nutrition, Human Rights, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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