The U.N. refugee agency says it remains extremely concerned over the security situation in eastern Chad where there are now more than 220,000 Darfur refugees from neighboring Sudan and over 100,000 internally displaced Chadians. It says some 20,000 Chadians have been uprooted within the past three weeks. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency says there has been a decrease in fighting between the Chadian army and opposition forces. But, it says inter-communal conflict continues in southeastern parts of the country near the border with Sudan's Darfur region.
UNHCR Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says about 10,000 people have fled from more than 20 villages involved in inter-communal fighting over the past three weeks. She says they are gathered in the village of Gassire, eight kilometers north of the town of Goz Beida.
She says another 10,000 Chadians are believed to have been driven from their homes in cross-border attacks from Sudan by Janjaweed militia in the Borota region.
"This insecurity is now posing a direct threat to refugee camps housing thousands of Sudanese refugees from Darfur," she said. "We sent a technical mission to Gassire to assess conditions there and the needs of the thousands of displaced Chadians. Humanitarian agencies, whose activities had already been reduced because of the insecurity, are now severely over-stretched."
Pagonis accompanied U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on a trip to eastern Chad in late December. She says they visited camps housing internally displaced people that had been burned down six-days earlier.
She says many people are camped out in areas close to the villages that have been attacked. Others, she says, have fled to one of the refugee camps run by the UNHCR.
"We are constrained by the security issues in the region," she added. "It is very difficult to work there. So, we are trying to-with other humanitarian agencies-make sure that they have got food, make sure that they have got shelter. In Habilla, something like 83 homes - this is the IDP [internally displaced persons] site - 83 of their homes have been burnt to the ground in the attacks. The major preoccupation is security. They are absolutely terrified. They see these attacks happening in the region. They do not feel safe in IDP camps. They do not feel safe anywhere."
Pagonis says the president of Chad, Idriss Deby, promises he will send troops to restore security in eastern Chad. She says his government has made available about $8 million for assistance to Chad's internally displaced.