SUDAN WATCH: UN moves staff as Chadian rebels advance

Thursday, May 07, 2009

UN moves staff as Chadian rebels advance

May 6, 2009 LIBREVILLE (AFP) —
UN moves staff as Chadian rebels advance
The UN refugee agency on Thursday said it has pulled all but two of 20 staff out of camps for 60,000 people in eastern Chad, because of a rebel offensive, a top official said.

For the UNHCR, "there are now only two people" at Koukou Angarana, a site 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the town of Goz Beida, where other staff have been recalled, Serge Male, the head of the High Commissioner for Refugees office in Chad, told AFP by telephone.

The decision echoes one Wednesday by the UN World Food Programme in the same region, because three rebel forces were progressing across Chad from the eastern border with Sudan, stating that their sights were set on the capital Ndjamena.

"All the other humanitarian agencies are going to do the same" because the situation is "too volatile and too unstable," Male said, but he stressed that "we hope this won't last."

The UNHCR has meanwhile provided for "very short term" measures to keep about 20,000 Sudanese refugees at Koukou Angarana and about 40,000 Chadians displaced by previous internal conflicts, Male said.

A rebel leader on Thursday told AFP in Libreville by electronic mail that "we are advancing... Until now, everything has gone according to our strategy," adding that "no lives have been lost on either side."

The Chadian government has accused Sudan of backing the rebel assault that started on Monday, while the ink was scarcely dry on a peace pact between the fractious neighbours brokered in Doha by Qatar and Libya.

Rebels of the Union of Forces for Resistance (UFR) claimed in a statement that they captured government military vehicles during a brief land clash on Tuesday between Tizzi and Haraz Mangueigne.

But the government said it had carried out one air raid on the rebels, who were advancing across the hot, arid south of the central African country in hundreds of all-terrain vehicles.

Diplomatic sources said that on Wednesday the rebels entered Am-Timan, 180 kilometres south of Goz Beida, and Am-Dam, 110 kilometres to the north, where they encountered no resistance. The Chadian government has made no comment on these claims.

However, the military activity, which follows a thwarted rebel bid last year to seize Ndjamena after they entered the capital, has led to mounting fears for some 450,000 refugees and displaced people in camps in eastern Chad.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon "is following developments in eastern Chad with increasing concern," the UN said in a statement late Wednesday, calling on Chad and Sudan to resume peace talks and urging respect for UN humanitarian operations.

Chadian Interior and Public Security Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bashir said that forces were being dispatched to intercept a column of rebel fighters spotted in the Central African Republic (CAR) near the border with Chad.

But the rebel UFR on Thursday denied that there were any rebel forces in the neighbouring country. An officer in the CAR army said they had no information for the moment about a rebel presence. But he added: "The situation worries us."

Bashir accused Sudanese President Omar El-Beshir of ordering "mercenaries" to attack Chad and vowed that the rebels would be wiped out.

Chad and Sudan have had tense relations for years, each country accusing the other of trying to destabilise its government. The latest peace deal, signed only on Sunday in Doha, appeared now to have fallen through.

Peace between Chad and Sudan is regarded as essential to any lasting settlement to a six-year-old uprising in Sudan's western Darfur region, where the Chadian rebels have rear bases.

In February last year, rebels battled their way to Ndjamena in western Chad in a bid to overthrow President Idiss Deby Itno before being beaten back with logistical help from some French forces.


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