Chadian villages attacked and burned, many dead and hundreds flee
GOZ BEIDA, Chad, November 9 (UNHCR) - Armed men on horseback have raided several remote villages in south-eastern Chad near the border with Sudan's Darfur region, looting and torching homes, killing scores of people and forcing hundreds to flee their homes. Initial reports received by UNHCR staff indicate more than 200 people may have been killed, the refugee agency said in a press release on Thursday.
After receiving reports of several brutal attacks in the region, a UNHCR team travelled on Wednesday to the Kerfi area, 40 kilometres south of their base in the town of Goz Beida. Local residents told the team that the attacks began last Saturday and had so far affected the villages of Bandicao, Badia, Neweya, Kerfi, Agourtoulou, Abougsoul and Djorlo. There are also reports that Tamadjour and Loubitegue village were attacked on Wednesday.
More than 1,000 people who fled some 10 villages in the region arrived on Wednesday in Koukou Angarana and in a nearby camp for internally displaced people at Habile, which already held 3,500 displaced Chadians. More displaced are arriving as they emerge from hiding in the bush. UNHCR is also checking reports of new arrivals around Djabal refugee camp in Goz Beida, the main town in south-east Chad.
The villagers want to return to their homes as soon as possible because this is the harvest season, Musonda Shikinda, head of the UNHCR office in Goz Beida, said. "It would be a complete disaster for them if they cannot do it [the harvest], so they are hoping that the situation will calm down quickly to be able to go back to their lands," he added.
In Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called for urgent action and international support to halt the growing violence. "We are deeply alarmed at the brutality in eastern Chad, which is already struggling to cope with more than 218,000 Sudanese refugees from neighbouring Darfur," said Guterres. "We have warned for months that the Darfur conflict threatens to destabilise the entire region and we support calls for an international presence in eastern Chad and stronger Chadian efforts to maintain security in the area."
In August, UN Security Council Resolution 1706 called for the deployment of a multi-dimensional United Nations presence to Chad and the neighbouring Central African Republic. The UN refugee agency is concerned that the deteriorating security situation in the east might affect its humanitarian operation.
UNHCR teams in south-eastern Chad are still gathering information, but initial reports indicate that as many as 220 people have been killed in the string of attacks and dozens wounded. Most of the wounded are still in or around their villages because they have no transportation to bring them to the closest health centres in Kerfi village and Goz Beida.
The head of UNHCR's office in N'Djamena, Chad's capital, travelled to the region today along with other UNHCR and UN agency staff and Chadian officials. They are visiting Goz Beida and Koukou to assess the needs of the newly displaced.
A UNHCR team which travelled to Djorlo on Wednesday found much of the village still smouldering after being attacked and burned by some 200 men on horseback on Tuesday morning.
Villagers told UNHCR that neighbouring Arab tribes attacked Djorlo, killing 36 and wounding 22 people in the village of 800 inhabitants. "Some of the attackers were in the trees and were shooting at the inhabitants from there," said the village chief, adding that some wore green military fatigues and red berets.
Another survivor in Djorlo said the villagers were expecting an attack. "We had heard that Bandicao had been attacked, so we were waiting our turn. The men had gathered outside the village with bows and arrows, but we did not have guns - they did," he said.
The wounded in Djorlo had to wait until the following afternoon to be transported by ambulance to Goz Beida, while the dead were buried in four mass graves.
UNHCR staffers said they found the villagers in a state of shock, with men and young boys wandering amongst the destruction armed with bows and arrows, and a few swords. They tried to salvage what they could from the debris.
In the past year, an estimated 63,000 Chadians have been displaced by inter-ethnic violence in eastern Chad. The UN refugee agency cares for 15,000 refugees from Darfur in Djabal camp, near Goz Beida, as well as for 18,000 refugees in Goz Amir camp, near Koukou. In total, UNHCR and its partners assist 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.
By Hélène Caux in Goz Beida, Chad