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More Refugees Expected to Flee to Chad From Darfur

The United Nations says about 12,000 refugees from Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur Province have fled across the border into eastern Chad since Friday to escape deadly attacks by the Sudanese-backed janjaweed militia. The U.N. refugee agency says thousands of other refugees reportedly are en route to Chad. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are conducting a mission to the area in Darfur where the attacks took place. The agencies want to see the situation and assess the needs for humanitarian assistance on the Sudan side of the border.

Thousands of households have been affected by the attacks. Many people have been displaced and about 12,000 others have sought refuge in neighboring Chad.

U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Helene Caux, tells VOA most of the refugees who have arrived are men. But they tell aid workers that thousands of other refugees, mainly women and children are on their way to Chad.

"Our team told us that the children who have crossed, a lot of them are malnourished. So, the refugees are not in such good condition and they are quite traumatized also," she said. "They really are talking about very brutal and violent attacks, bombings and attacks on the ground by the janjaweed militia."

The attacks took place in the areas of Sirba, Sileah and Abu Suruj, about 50 to 70 kilometers north of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. The area is known to be a stronghold of the Sudanese opposition group, the Justice and Equality Movement.

Caux says a refugee from Sileah reported that ground attacks by the janjaweed militia, allegedly supported by Sudanese aircraft, nearly destroyed Abu Suruj and caused heavy damage to four camps for internally displaced people.

The spokeswoman says the UNHCR has no information about the number of deaths and casualties. Human Rights Watch reports 150 people were killed during the attacks.

Caux says the border area between Chad and Darfur is normally unsafe and very volatile. But she says it is particularly chaotic following the janjaweed attacks in Darfur and recent efforts by Chadian opposition groups to topple the government of President Idriss Deby.

"So, the whole area is very unsafe and chaotic. You have lots of armed groups moving around," continued Caux. "So, it is unsafe for everybody, for the refugees who stay at the border. It is unsafe for U.N. teams who are at the border. So, that is why one of our main priorities is to move these people away from the border to already existing refugee camps."

The UNHCR plans to send eight trucks to the border Tuesday to start moving the refugees to established camps near Guereda, about 50 kilometers from the Chad-Sudan border. She says the refugees will be safer there and will have basic services available to them.

But because of the huge number of new arrivals, she says the UNHCR is discussing setting up a new camp.