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UN Withdraws Most Staff From N'Djamena


The United Nations reports because of security reasons it has withdrawn more than 150 of its staff members from Chad's capital, N'Djamena, since Friday. That includes 103 U.N. aid workers who were flown to Libreville, Gabon by the French military. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Among those transported out of N'Djamena are 25 UNHCR staff members. U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Helene Caux, tells VOA, the agency had to withdraw its aid workers because it could not leave them in harm's way.

"It is very worrying. The fighting in N'Djamena is not over. The situation is still very confusing. So, it is an absolutely chaotic situation right now in Chad," she said.

Hundreds of rebels intent on overthrowing the government of Idriss Deby entered the capital on Saturday. They reportedly have seized large parts of the city and are surrounding the president's palace.

French forces in N'Djamena have flown out hundreds of French and other foreign citizens, as well as UN staff to the Gabonese capital, Libreville.

Chief spokesman for the UNHCR, Ron Redmond, says the agency is concerned about the effect on its overall humanitarian operations in the country, should the instability and insecurity in N'Djamena continue.

"N'Djamena, the capital, is sort of a hub nationally for our operations on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people throughout the country,' said Redmond. "And, obviously, we cannot go on for long without having the ability to work out of N'Djamena, to liase with the government on all of our operations."

Last week, the UNHCR was forced to withdraw more than 40 staff and aid workers from private organizations from the Eastern Chad town of Guereda following a series of armed attacks in the area.

The UNHCR assists 240,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 sprawling camps in eastern Chad. Although its staff was forced to leave two camps in Guereda, the agency says aid workers are still present in the 10 other camps.

Helene Caux says it is possible for the camps to function without U.N. staff for several weeks. But anything beyond that, she says, would be catastrophic for the refugees.