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Chad Refugees in Cameroon Return to Their Battered Capital

Many Chadian refugees in neighboring Cameroon are heading back to their capital N'Djamena, which they fled following a failed coup by rebels who attacked the city. But after days squatting in difficult conditions in Cameroon, they are finding more problems awaiting them back home. During the fighting, many people died, and buildings and homes were damaged. Thieves took advantage of the chaos that followed. Sarah Simpson reports for the VOA from Kousseri in Cameroon and N'Djamena in Chad.

Refugees are leaving Cameroon and heading home to Chad by car, motorbike, bicycle, but mostly on foot. A short bridge crosses the river that marks the border.

Many of the returnees, including a young mother who asked only to be identified as Rosinne, spent nearly a week sleeping on the ground under trees, surrounded by their few possessions. Rosinne has had enough.

She says she suffered a lot in Cameroon and prefers to go home and die there. She says she was in Cameroon for five days and did not have any clean drinking water, not even rice. No one took care of the refugees, she says. It was worse than miserable.

The United Nations has promised food and toilets for the refugees, but Rosinne is not waiting.

Most of the refugees are heading to Chad's capital N'Djamena, 10 miles past the border. There, large numbers of soldiers patrol the streets in open-back jeeps.

Civilians in Chad's capital are taking stock of the damage wrought by fighting between government forces and rebels who tried but failed to force President Idriss Deby from power.

Ahmat Ahidjo, an office worker in N'Djamena, is dismayed at the loss.

He says N'Djamena is broken. "Everything is stolen, burned, broken," he says. "We have lost our brothers, our sisters and our parents in these events." He says these are the consequences of war, and he is frightened by war. He says he wants peace.

Young men and boys pick through the smoldering remains of the main market, looking for anything they can salvage. Traders say the market was destroyed by a bomb dropped from a government helicopter chasing rebels.

Hundreds of civilians were killed and about 1,000 injured in the two-day battle, according to the Red Cross.

The rebels targeted government buildings. The Ministry of Petroleum was robbed of every piece of furniture and finally set on fire.

With the rebels now out of the city, members of the political opposition fear government retribution. Many have already been arrested.

This is not the first time rebels have tried to oust President Deby. In Cameroon, refugee Boris Behoudim, thinks it may not be the last.

"They told lies to [the] people," he said. "They promised us that fighting will not happen, that fighting is finished [and] all rebel groups are destroyed. But since the day I realized that rebels groups are still here and they are very, very ready to fight. They have any guns possible and [are] ready to destroy the government. I am not ready to go back to N'Djamena."

Behoudim wants peace and thinks it is time that President Deby considers stepping down.

"For us to get peace in our country, maybe our president must leave or maybe he needs to get [another] solution to what the rebel groups are asking for. If not, we are not ready to get peace in our country," he added.

Chad has accused Sudan, its neighbor to the east, of backing the rebels. The coup attempt has disrupted the launch of a European Union peacekeeping force. EU troops have been approved to help protect hundreds of thousands of displaced Chadians and refugees from Sudan's troubled Darfur region sheltering in Chad.