The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says Chad's president, Idriss Deby, has withdrawn his threat to expel some 200-thousand Sudanese refugees who fled the conflict in Darfur. The High Commissioner issued a statement from his office in Geneva in which he says he received these reassurances during a telephone conversation with the Chadian President Sunday night.
UN Refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says everyone is very relieved at the outcome of the discussions between High Commissioner Guterres and Chadian President Deby.
Even though the refugees are living in very remote desert camps, he says they were well aware of what was going on. He says they were understandably alarmed at the prospect of being forcibly deported to Darfur where they face persecution and even death.
While the present danger is over, he tells VOA the UNHCR remains concerned by the situation on the ground.
"Something of a void has been created in some parts of the East because this is a vast territory of Eastern Chad and we have got a dozen camps spread across about 600 kilometers of very remote territory, fairly near the Darfur border," he said. "There are now reports of Janjaweed and bandits basically taking advantage of the vacuum in that area right now because the military is preoccupied elsewhere. So, it is a situation that is quite worrisome."
On Friday, Chad prevented efforts by rebels to topple the government of President Idriss Deby. He retaliated by threatening to expel some 200,000 refugees from Darfur by the end of June if the international community did not take steps to stop, what he called, Sudan's efforts to undermine his government.
UNHCR's Redmond says the High Commissioner has repeatedly warned in recent months that unrest on both sides of the Sudan-Chad border was posing a growing threat to civilians, displaced people and aid workers. He says Commissioner Guterres also warned that the ongoing war in Darfur risked destabilizing the whole region.
"He has said that those fears are now becoming a reality because we are seeing attacks on civilians by Janjaweed," added Redmond. "We are seeing forced recruitment of refugees. We are seeing a growing threat of militarization of refugee camps and this all makes a speedy resolution of the Darfur crisis all the more urgent."
Redmond says the UNHCR appreciates the generosity and sacrifice of the people of Chad who have been providing help to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic.
But, he warns the situation remains very fragile and urges the international community to answer the High Commissioner's plea to do everything possible to establish peace and security in Darfur.