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Inter-Ethnic Violence Increasing in Chad

The U.N. refugee agency says inter-ethnic violence is increasing in eastern Chad. It says an interagency mission reports a recent spate of attacks in the Kerfi area, southwest of Goz Beida, has also extended to the Koukou area, southeast of the town of Goz Beida. Six agencies involved in the mission include the UNHCR, UNICEF and OXFAM.

The mission went to the Kerfi area Thursday to investigate attacks on villages that reportedly killed more than 200 people and forced hundreds to flee. While there, the U.N. refugee agency says, the team traveled to the Koukou region where it found a pattern of burned villages.

UNHCR spokesman, William Spindler, says vulnerable people, such as the elderly, hid in the bush while armed men on horseback raided their villages.

"What is, again, for us very worrying is that the intensity, the brutality of these attacks and the numbers of people who have been affected," he said. "At the moment, we have been able to verify 220 people dead. But, we do not exclude the possibility of that number growing as we have more access to other villages in the area."

Spindler says the joint mission saw dozens of people fleeing with their belongings, their donkeys carrying bags of food supplies.

He says many people fled toward a site for displaced people at Habile near Koukou. He says many of the new arrivals have started building makeshift shelters. He notes the site already hosts 3,500 people from earlier displacements and has reached its maximum capacity.

UNHCR spokesman, Spindler, says it is difficult to know who the attackers are. But he says villagers say some include local Arab Chadians, not people from Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur.

"But we do not exclude the possibility that there might be also people crossing the border from Sudan," he added. "What is clear is that there is an extension of the violence and insecurity in Darfur taking place into eastern Chad. This has been happening for the last few months. This is a very worrying sign that maybe the conflict in Darfur might be becoming regionalized."

The UNHCR estimates there are 63,000 internally displaced people in Eastern Chad.

Spindler says the UNHCR is extremely concerned about the deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on its humanitarian operation. The agency and its partners assist more than 200,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps.