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Sudan Tribune

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80,000 children at risk in lawless eastern Chad

May 17, 2006 (DAKAR) — Fears are mounting for the safety of displaced Chadians, Darfuri refugees, and aid workers helping to keep them alive in the harsh desert of eastern Chad, and among them are 80,000 children, according to a UN official.

There has been an increase in militia attacks on villages and refugee camps in eastern Chad since rebels opposed to Chadian president Idriss Deby launched an assault on the border town Adre in December. Since then the Chadian army has withdrawn from many areas.

And on Wednesday, a senior UN official told IRIN in Dakar that the government could not guarantee security across vast swathes of the eastern region.

“The government has lost the ability to assure the security of some areas along the border, and to ensure the security and integrity of refugee camps, and the safety of humanitarian workers,” Stephen Adkisson, Chad representative for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told IRIN in Dakar on Wednesday.

“They admit themselves that they are overstretched. They recognise the responsibility they have to protect people, but also that to fulfil all their responsibilities is impossible,” he added.

Some 80,000 children are among the most vulnerable people who are at risk because of repeated militia attacks against their villages, the camps they have fled to, and increasingly the aid workers trying to help keep them alive, according to Adkisson.

The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has already warned the Chadian government that if the security of aid workers in eastern Chad cannot be assured, humanitarian operations for over 350,000 refugees and displaced people could be “pulled out”.

Chadians who have been leaving their villages along the border by the truckload in recent weeks say armed rebels are attacking them with automatic weapons and stealing their cattle and food stocks. Several people have been killed in rebel attacks.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR sounded the alarm earlier this week over reports of thousands of refugees being forcibly recruited from camps in eastern Chad into militia groups.

UNHCR said on one weekend in April alone 4,700 men and boys were taken away from their families by Sudanese fighters who crossed into Chad from Sudan’s troubled Darfur region. The men and boys, many against their will, were taken to Sudan to work as porters and gun cleaners for the fighting force, said UNHCR.

The abductions and recruitments could lead to camps being targeted by rival groups, making it “essential” that the Chadian authorities regain control of areas around the 12 camps in eastern Chad, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva on Tuesday.

UNICEF’s Adkisson called for security to be addressed urgently.

“The displaced want nothing more than security, and the opportunity to go home,” said UNICEF’s Adkisson. “There is a security vacuum at the moment, and it must be addressed.”

(IRIN)

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