Darfuri refugees in Chad’s Ouri Cassoni camp listened recently to the unrelenting rasp of automatic gunfire and the echo of bomb explosions as the Sudanese military fought rebels just over the border, only a few kilometres from the refugee camp.
They reported seeing Antonov bombers circling the area.
Mathew Conway, the UN Refugee Agency’s spokesperson in Chad speaking to Aljazeera.net, said: “There [was] a lot of fear among the refugees, because they recognised [the Antonov] as the type of plane that had bombed their villages,”
Conway says that recently arrived refugees accused the Sudanese military and Janjawid of preventing people from fleeing to Chad.
“We are concerned that people’s right to seek safety and sanctuary is being impeded by the government of Sudan and Janjawid forces.”
Moving the camp
To protect Ouri Cassoni’s refugees from the border violence and to ensure against the militarisation of the camp, the UN Refugee Agency will attempt to move the camp’s 26,293 refugees further inland from the border.
They also plan to relocate the 16,504 refugees in the Am Nabak camp, located 18km from the border.
In anticipation of the possible arrival of 50,000 new refugees from Darfur, the UN Refugee Agency in Chad is also preparing to set up additional refugee camps.
While Sudanese government campaigns against rebels and civilian villages in Darfur and attacks between Darfuri rebel groups are on the rise, violence has also increased in Chad.
Addressing the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa in Kigali, Rwanda last week, Kofi Anan, the UN secretary-general, said that the situation in the Chad/Central African Republic/Sudan border area is fraught with danger. “It could destabilise all of Central Africa,” he said.
Chad’s ambassador to the US, Mahamoud Adam Bashir, speaking to Aljazeera.net confirmed Anan’s fears: “Any deterioration of the security situation in Darfur directly affects insecurity in Chad.
“The situation has been getting out of control,” he says.
Blaming the Janjawid
Bashir says the main problem in Chad is the attacks of the Darfur-based Janjawid against Chadian civilians. Originally armed and financed by Khartoum to attack the non-Arab Muslim populations in Darfur, there have been repeated instances of Janjawid attacks in Chad since March.
“Our own citizens have been victimised [by the Darfur crisis]. The whole region has been victimised.”
Darfuris face daily depredations
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 50,000 Chadians have been displaced by Janjawid attacks, about 35,000 of which have relocated to internally displaced people’s (IDP) settlements further inland from the hostile border area.
Last week, Arab groups who locals say are members of the Janjawid, attacked an ethnic-Dajo village 40km from Chad’s Goz Amir camp, says Conway.
The violence caused several hundred Chadians to flee from their villages and seek safety near the Goz Amir refugee camp.
“This could cause major inter-community problems because the Dajo are armed and fighting back,” says Conway.
Over the past few weeks, fighting has also intensified in East Chad between government forces and Chadian rebels based in neighbouring Darfur.
Conway says the increase in violence will lead to displacement of local populations.
“With recent offensives launched by the Government of Sudan, and with the recent resumption in hostilities between Chadian rebels and Government of Chad forces, we are anticipating further displacement of Chadians in the coming weeks.”
Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, has called for international UN peacekeepers to protect the border in East Chad, saying that he does not have enough troops to prevent the Janjawid from crossing the 1000km border with Sudan.
Deby wants UN peacekeepers
Critics say that he is using the volatile situation in Darfur as an excuse to have international troops protect him from Chadian rebels pledging to overthrow him from their stronghold in Darfur.
Rebels made an unsuccessful coup attempt in the capital N’djamena last April.
“Despite repeated calls from the humanitarian and international community to provide greater security, the first priority of the Chadian military is protecting the state [from rebels], or at least the regime in power,” Conway said last June.
“They’ve really mobilized in large numbers to places that they think are strategic defence points, leaving huge areas totally un-patrolled.”
Bashir says that fighting the Janjawid could jeopardise icy relations with Sudan, a relationship that he says has finally started to improve since the two countries signed an agreement in August to normalise diplomatic relations.
“We are in a very sensitive situation [with Sudan]. Bringing forces to fight the Janjawid would add even more tension between the two countries.”
“The Janjawid attacks will only stop when the conflict in Darfur is solved and there are credible and capable forces [on the ground] with a proper mandate,” says Bashir.