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Thousands Flee to Chad From CAR

The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 4,500 refugees from the Central African Republic have fled attacks from rebel groups in recent weeks to southeastern Chad. The UNHCR says the refugees are afraid more fighting will occur between government forces and rebels in the northern part of the country.

Sporadic fighting between government and rebel forces has been going on for some time in the northern part of the Central African Republic. U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond tells VOA there is a lot of unrest in the region.

He says thousands of people have fled their villages in anticipation of imminent attacks between the two warring parties in the CAR.

"It is a lawless area. People also report a lot of banditry and those sorts of attacks on small towns and villages," said Redmond. "There are a lot of abductions of children and people are just facing a very, very chaotic and insecure situation in the northern Central African Republic."

The UNHCR runs five refugee camps in southeastern Chad, housing about 56,000 refugees from the CAR. Redmond says the area where the recent refugees have arrived is very remote. He says the UNHCR and other aid agencies managed to reach them by helicopter a few days ago.

Redmond says most of the new refugees are women and children.

"They are fleeing out of fear as much as anything, this most recent group. Apparently, after they left, there were indeed battles and attacks by the rebels on government positions. And, these people said their villages are now controlled by rebel groups," he added. "These people do not want to go home. They are from about 20 villages in the northern Central African Republic."

Redmond says the refugees are in good health, but they have arrived with nothing, and are in desperate need of food and other assistance. He says all reserves in the local health center are depleted and there is no food left in the market.

He says local people have been sharing some of their food and water with the refugees, but they have very little to give. He says the area is so remote the only way to bring aid to the region is by helicopter.

The UNHCR spokesman says this will have to be done soon. Once the rainy season starts in May, he says roads will become impassable and the refugees will be out of reach.