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UNHCR: Sudanese Rebels Recruiting Refugees

The U.N. refugee agency reports a number of young men in refugee camps in Chad have been forcibly recruited by members of Sudanese rebel groups. The young men are among 200,0000 people who fled fighting in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur. The UNHCR says the rebels presumably took the refugees back to Darfur.

The U.N. refugee agency says people who fled the horrors of Darfur already have suffered enough. It says it is totally unacceptable that refugee camps become recruiting grounds and that children under the age of 18 are being victimized.

In March, armed men from Sudanese rebel groups entered two of the 12 refugee camps run by the UNHCR in eastern Chad. About 4,700 men and boys were recruited by them. In April, more recruitment reportedly took place in yet another camp.

UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says these activities have not stopped. He says he is afraid recruitment also could be spreading to other refugee sites in eastern Chad.

"Young refugees who managed to return to the camps said they were taken to makeshift training areas along the Chad/Sudan border and taught-among other things-how to clean weapons," he said. "Those who refused were beaten, the refugees said. They were told that following the training, they would be sent to fight. Several hundred young men and boys from Breidjing and Treguine camps are reportedly still missing and are believed to be in the training camps somewhere along the Sudan-Chad border. Those who managed to escape and return to the camps now say they are afraid the rebel groups will return and find them."

UNHCR is calling on Chad's government to increase security in and around the refugee camps and to do everything it can to maintain their civilian character.

The top United Nations humanitarian official, Jan Egeland has recently returned from a trip to Darfur and Chad to assess the humanitarian situation. He told VOA that the bitter rhetoric between the Chadian and Sudanese governments has toned down, but he says the border between the two countries remains very tense. And armed groups cross in both directions all the time.

"There are the ethnic militia armed men attacking women and children and then going on either side of the border," said Mr. Egeland. "They are crossing the border from either side and then coming deep from Sudan, deep into Chad, for example. And I met 10,000 internally displaced who had come to see me in a particular place, where we had not been able to provide even assistance to them yet."

Egeland warns the whole humanitarian operation is threatened by the onslaught of armed men. He says they are a threat to both the civilian population and the humanitarian workers.