UNHCR concerned about increasing violence in east Chad
GENEVA, May 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Friday it was very concerned by escalating violence in eastern Chad, including a fatal attack on gendarmes near a refugee camp and increased levels of vehicle hijacking.
"We fear that the attack on the Sudanese capital Khartoum last weekend could further destabilize the security situation in the east and have reduced our activities and staff movements as a precautionary measure," UNHCR spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, told journalists in Geneva.
Pagonis said UNHCR was shocked by the latest incident near Touloum refugee camp on Wednesday, when two gendarmes providing security for the camp were killed by three armed men just three kilometres from the camp.
Another two gendarmes were severely wounded in the incident, which left one of the attackers dead and another badly injured. The attackers, local Chadians, were arrested by police. The gendarmes work with the government refugee body, CNAR, to ensure refugee security.
This fatal attack followed two hijacking incidents on Tuesday. Near Touloum camp, three armed men hijacked a vehicle belong to one of UNHCR's implementing partners, then drove to Am Nabak refugee camp where they hijacked a vehicle belonging to a local NGO. Gendarmes from Touloum gave chase and the hijackers finally abandoned the vehicles and escaped.
"Over the past three months we have witnessed an escalation in the number of security incidents," Pagonis noted. She said that on May 1, the head of the Save the Children mission was killed; in April a driver from the same NGO was killed near Farchana, and in February, two CNAR gendarmes were killed in Farchana and Bahai.
"We also witnessed increasing attempts to hijack vehicles. NGO compounds were assaulted by armed robbers in Goz Beida and Abéché," Pagonis said, adding: "Between October 2005 and March 2008, a total of 82 vehicles have been stolen in eastern Chad, out of which only 23 have been found."
UNHCR and the humanitarian community are working with the Chadian government and European and UN forces to put an end to impunity in eastern Chad. Additional security measures are being put in place.
The May 10 attack on Khartoum by rebels could trigger additional security problems in eastern Chad and have an impact on the humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced people in the region. As a precautionary measure, UNHCR has restricted movements of staff and is carrying out only essential tasks such as follow-up on protection cases, food and water distribution and health assistance.
On May 11, an Antonov plane was seen flying over Oure Cassoni refugee camp near Bahai, scaring refugees. The camp hosts 28,000 refugees and is located 6 kms from the volatile Chad-Sudan border.
Meanwhile, in the Guéréda area, around 8,000 of the estimated 13,500 Sudanese refugees who arrived in eastern Chad in February and March are still camping in the open at Birak, about 70 km east of Guéréda close to border with Sudan.
Many of the women and children among them are waiting to be transferred to Mile refugee camp, but UNHCR had to postpone their relocation two weeks ago because of the extremely volatile security situation at the border.
UNHCR and its partners take care of some 60,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region in three camps in the Iriba region - 23,500 in Touloum camp, 18,500 in Iridimi camp and 16,705 refugees in Am Nabak camp. Overall, there are 250,000 Sudanese refugees in 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad and some 180,000 internally displaced Chadians.