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The Chad News Archive

Sudan Rebels Use Chad Camps

BBC News (7/7/09)

A BBC reporter in Chad has seen armed Sudanese rebels openly driving through Oure Cassoni camp for Darfur refugees.

The Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) fighters were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s.

A Jem spokesman told the BBC his group had permission from the authorities to enter the camp near Sudan's border for supplies and to get vehicles fixed.

Aid workers say their presence in the camp, near the town of Bahay, is putting refugees' safety at risk.

The BBC's Celeste Hicks in Bahay says last month planes bombed three kilometres away from the camp, in what was believed to be Sudanese retaliation for Jem taking the Darfuri towns of Kornoi and Um Baru in May.

Two local people and many animals were killed.

"All the children had gone to the wadi [dry river bed] to collect firewood," refugee Izadine Kashir told the BBC

"We heard the bombing and saw huge clouds of smoke. Everyone panicked and the women went running out of the camp to get the children."

More than two million people have been forced from their homes during the six-year conflict in Darfur. Some 250,000 have crossed the border into Chad.

No peacekeeper patrols

According to the UN's refugee agency, the carrying of arms into refugee camps is prohibited by international refugee law.

But Oure Cassoni falls well short of those rules, our correspondent says.

"We cannot provide assistance [unless] in a neutral environment - the capacity to ensure its civilian and humanitarian nature is just not there," says Serge Male, UNHCR's outgoing representative in Chad.

The UNHCR had hoped the arrival in 2008 of the UN peacekeeping mission for Chad and the Central African Republic (Minurcat) would provide a deterrent to the armed men, our reporter says.

But while they have started patrols further south, humanitarian workers in Bahay say it has been months since they last saw them.

"We have had a challenge of finding water to set up a permanent base there," says Minurcat head Victor Angelo.

"But we will do everything that's necessary to stop people using the camp to recruit children or as a rest and recuperation facility."

UNHCR warns that unless Minurcat deploys, aid workers have only two options.

"Either we move the camp, or finally we can decide to completely withdraw assistance. Something has to change soon," Mr Male says.

Chad's government denies allegations it has close links with Jem, who come from the same ethnic group as President Idriss Deby - and are often seen in N'Djamena hotels.

"Jem is not being paid by the Chadian government, we have no way of putting pressure on them," says government spokesperson Mahamat Hissene.

"We've done everything we can to bring security to Chad but with so many refugees we had to ask the UN peacekeepers to come in."

Jem took up arms in 2003, complaining that Sudan's Arab-dominated government was discriminating against Darfur.

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