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More Darfur Refugees Flee to Eastern Chad - 2004-08-17

Aid workers in eastern Chad are reporting a sharp increase in the number of refugees fleeing the Darfur region of western Sudan, despite the Sudanese government's insistence that it is taking steps to restore security.

Speaking to VOA from western Sudan, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency, Kitty McKinsey, says the refugee influx into neighboring Chad is picking up again after weeks of relative calm.

"In northeastern section of Chad, where the refugees are, we registered 450 new refugees over the weekend, which is the largest number who have come in the last two months," she said. "At the same time, we have seen some people who have tried to go home to their villages, but when they go home, they said the security was very bad and they either flee to be displaced once more inside Darfur or they cross over into Chad."

Two days ago, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, said that despite assurances by the government that it is doing all it can to restore order and security in Darfur, he remained deeply concerned about reports of continuing attacks on black civilians in Darfur by local pro-government Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed.

The Arab-dominated Sudanese government has been widely accused of using the Janjaweed as a proxy force in a campaign to ethnically cleanse blacks from Darfur.

Khartoum denies it is behind the attacks but has pledged to restore order in Darfur. Sudanese officials Sunday announced that the government had designated several safe areas for civilians in Darfur, including the capitals of each of Darfur's three states.

Khartoum has promised to have the safe areas secured by the end of the month, when a 30-day United Nations Security Council deadline is set to expire for the government to demonstrate that it is serious about ending the violence in Darfur. Sudan faces unspecified sanctions if it fails to meet that pledge.

But aid workers in Chad and Darfur say the situation appears to be deteriorating, not improving. Unnamed sources within U.N. relief organizations have been quoted as saying they believe government troops are preventing many more terrorized civilians from fleeing Darfur in an effort to show that the government is restoring stability in the region.

UNHCR spokesperson Kitty McKinsey says that across the border, Chadian officials are becoming increasingly alarmed about the possibility that more refugees from Darfur could soon arrive to join 200,000 refugees in makeshift camps in eastern Chad.

"We have several camps where we have 15,000 refugees and only 1,000 people in the local community, so this is a tremendous burden for the Chadian government," she said. "They are appealing for help, and they are extremely worried that their economy may be destabilized if any more people came in."

The United Nations estimates that more than a million people have been displaced and 50,000 killed since fighting broke out between the government and two main rebel groups a year and a half ago. U.N. officials say two million of Darfur's six million people are now in urgent need of aid.