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Chad: UNHCR to prepare temporary site for refugees from CAR

Briefing notes

Chad: UNHCR to prepare temporary site for refugees from CAR

4 March 2003

In Chad, workers locally hired by UNHCR have cleared eight hectares of forest for a temporary site that will accommodate thousands of people who have fled fighting in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) amid reports of killings and atrocities. Over the past few days, the influx into Chad of Central African refugees and Chadian nationals, who had been living in CAR, subsided to between 100 and 150 a day, from a daily high of 1,000 last week. However, the figure includes only those using the main border crossings, while many more could be crossing at smaller border points. There are now more than 26,000 people in at least six locations along Chad's south - western border. More than 12,000 of them are Central Africans, while 14,000 are former Chadian immigrants to CAR.

Over the past few days, UNHCR staff have visited nine border villages. At one location, our staff met a local official of the CAR town of Nia - Pende, near Paoua in the north - west, who had also fled to Chad. The official reported that the 45 villages which make up Nia - Pende are now deserted. The nearby town of Bossangoa, which had a population of some 25,000, is also said to be empty. Inhabitants of these towns and adjacent areas are said to be hiding in the bush or have crossed the border into Chad to escape rebel attacks. Refugees say some villagers were killed and their homes burned by CAR rebels loyal to the former army chief, François Bozizé. They also say that some of those who had gone into hiding to escape the rebels were hunted down in the bush and killed. Children were not spared. These accounts, which cannot be independently verified by UNHCR, were repeated by several groups of refugees who have sought refuge in a number of Chadian border villages.

In one village with 400 Central African refugees, at least 20 women said they had been separated from their children when they fled from rebels. The whereabouts of their children are still unknown.

While CAR nationals complain about atrocities by rebels, Chadian nationals said they fled attacks by CAR government forces which are allegedly backed by the Democratic Republic of Congo MLC rebel group. However, northern CAR has been off limits to the international community for several months now and it is difficult to verify reports about the situation there.