In eastern Chad, the sight of armed Sudanese rebels in or near refugee camps is becoming more common. The latest incident occurred this week at the Oure Cassoni camp, about 20 kilometers from the town of Bahai.
Helene Caux is a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. From Bahai, she spoke to VOA’s English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua:
“We actually witnessed armed groups, Sudanese rebel groups, in Oure Cassoni camp, which is located just at the border between Chad and Sudan, north of Abeche…. Basically what happened is on Tuesday humanitarian workers in the camp spotted different rebels in pickups (trucks) going through the camp. They told the gendarmes, who are taking care of the camp, the police who are taking care of the camp, that they were coming to see family members and buying cigarettes and basically trying to meet people they knew. But for us it’s completely unacceptable to have men in military clothes and possibly with arms in a refugee camp.”
The UNHCR is trying to make it clear to the rebels they are not welcome at the camps. Caux says, “We met the local authorities to basically discuss the issue. And we’ve met the refugee leaders also to remind them of their duty not to collude with any military or political activity in a refugee camp. We really insist on the civilian character of refuge camps in eastern Chad and all over the world actually.”
Caux says there was no evidence of forced recruitment at the camp but adds there’s concern it could happen in the near future. At that point, the gendarmes could be asked to arrest the any rebels in the camp.
The Oure Cassoni camp is located about 70 kilometers from the Sudan border. The UNHCR is reluctant to relocate it because there’s a good supply of water there for the 27,000 refugees in the camp.