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Hundreds of Thousands in Chad's Camps Still Await Safe Return

Despite heavy rains that have made military battles almost impossible, smaller but deadly inter-communal clashes are still breaking out around the borders separating Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan. Years of fighting between rebel groups and their governments in all three countries have forced hundreds of thousands into temporary camps. Correspondent Phuong Tran visited camps in eastern Chad, and has this report for VOA.

For years, victims of violence in Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic have sought safety in a dozen humanitarian camps along Chad's eastern and southern borders.

Officials say people are still arriving to the camps.

They come with nothing, expecting to return home as soon as the fighting ends.

Upon arrival, they stand in line to receive a prayer mat, blanket, and kettle. And for most, those are their only belongings, after months, even years, of living in a place they do not want to call home.

Thirty-seven year old Chadian Diouma Abou says he fled his village, Marena, during an attack blamed on Sudanese militia last March that U.N. officials say killed hundreds.

Abou says he lost about 20 members of his family. He says his wife saw so much violence that she lost her mind, and is now in the hospital. He adds he still does not know where his father is.

Cross-border violence with Sudan and an internal rebellion against the Chad government have forced more than 100,000 Chadians into the camps.

They join more than 200,000 Sudanese who have fled ethnic violence in Darfur that erupted in 2003, when rebels complaining of neglect took up arms against their government.

Fadwa, a twenty-five-year-old mother of five, says she crossed over to Chad when militia groups attacked where she was staying on the border.

Fadwa's baby was just born that morning, but she says her husband, who is in Sudan caring for sick parents, needs to name the child. Fadwa says she is not sure when she will see him again.

The United Nations estimates there are some 400,000 refugees and displaced persons in the dozen poorly guarded camps.

Various peace efforts to quell the violence affecting Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic include a proposed U.N.-European Union peacekeeping force for eastern Chad and northeast Central African Republic. The United Nations would provide training to Chadian security forces, while the European Union would provide military forces.

Meanwhile, four Chad rebel groups are in Libya-mediated peace talks with their government. Sudanese rebel-government negotiations are expected in the coming months.

The U.N. Security Council has approved 26,000 peacekeepers for southern Sudan to try to end a conflict that has rocked lives in all three countries, killing some 200,000, and displacing millions.