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UNHCR Warns Fighting Jeopardizes Humanitarian Operation in Chad


U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is warning that humanitarian aid for hundreds-of-thousands of Sudanese refugees from Darfur and displaced Chadians could be jeopardized by a fresh outbreak of fighting in remote eastern Chad. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Ron Redmond says staff in the eastern city of Abeche, reported hearing gunfire early Saturday morning. Witnesses in Chad say rebel forces attacked government forces.

The U.N. refugee agency has its local headquarters in Abeche. Its staff of 300 cares for more than 200,000 refugees from Darfur, sheltered in 12 camps.

It also assists many of the 90,000 Chadians who were displaced by unrest over the past year.

Spokesman Redmond says the fighting is putting humanitarian operations at risk.

"High Commissioner Guterres is worried that, if this fighting spreads, or it continues, that that lifeline could be severed, and, if that happens, we are going to have tens-of-thousands of Sudanese refugees, as well as Chadians who have been internally displaced, in dire need of assistance. So, we are extremely concerned about this fighting," he said.

Redmond says the High Commissioner is appealing to all sides to bear in mind the enormous humanitarian consequences that any continuation of fighting could bring.

He says reports of military movements near the southeastern town of Goz Beida forced the UNHCR and other aid agencies on Friday to abandon plans to distribute humanitarian aid to thousands of displaced Chadians.

Redmond says there is also great concern among refugees from Darfur, who are living in nearby camps.

"In some cases, they are quite frightened, because these are people who have already fled severe violence in Darfur," he said. "The last thing they need is more of that in Chad."

"So far, there has not been any moves against any of the refugee camps, and we hope that will not be the case. But, the refugees understandably are quite nervous about what is happening," he added.

Redmond says High Commissioner Guterres has been warning for months that the violence and conflict in Darfur could spill over into Chad and the Central African Republic.

He says Guterres supports a call for a multi-dimensional force to patrol the Chad-Sudan border.

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