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Aid Agencies Say Thousands Fleeing Chad Capital

The U.N. refugee agency reports about 20,000 civilians have fled fighting in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, and crossed the river into the Cameroon border town of Kousseri. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says many of the refugees from Chad are staying with relatives in the Cameroon border town of Kousseri. It says others have found refuge in schools and some are staying in the few hotels in the town.

UNHCR Chief Spokesman Ron Redmond says between 6,000 and 7,000 refugees are staying at a transit center located near the bridge.

"The UNHCR team says these people are the most vulnerable ones, as they have been spending the past few nights in the open, with very little protection from the elements," he explained. "It is getting cold at night there. Authorities in Kousseri told us that 62 wounded people, who escaped fighting in N'Djamena, are being treated in the local hospital."

Redmond says the UNHCR is planning to move refugees from the transit camp as soon as possible to a better campsite in Maltam, 32 kilometers from Kousseri. He says this site, which has been around for many years, could host up to 100,000 people and is already equipped with wells.

He says the UNHCR is preparing to airlift 90 tons of relief supplies to Cameroon this week from its warehouse in Dubai. He says the supplies, which include plastic sheeting, jerry cans, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and plastic rolls, will be enough for 14,000 refugees.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, says the situation in N'Djamena remains tense and dangerous. It says its staff was forced to remain indoors over the weekend.

But, a spokeswoman, Anna Schaaf, says aid workers were able to take advantage of the lull in the fighting Monday in N'Djamena to ascertain the number of wounded and the state of the city's medical facilities. She says they found more than 1,000 wounded people in the hospitals.

"There is the possibility that many wounded have not been able yet to reach medical facilities so we would have to have a few more days to have a definite figure," she noted. "On the dead bodies? The fact is that ICRC teams were not able to move around over the weekend due to the security situation and the assessment they have been doing yesterday is only partial, so for the time being, there are no figures available on the dead."

Schaaf says fighting and looting in the capital continue and the situation in the city remains unstable.

The ICRC says it is very worried about civilians in the zones affected by fighting and about the wounded. The Swiss humanitarian agency is calling for all parties to the conflict to spare the civilian population and civilian property.