Refugees from Sudan may overwhelm camps in Chad

30,000 villagers threaten to flee if attacks continue

August 21, 2004|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS - Continued attacks by Arab militias in Sudan may drive tens of thousands of villagers across the border into Chad, overwhelming refugee camps there, the United Nations said yesterday.

Hundreds of refugees have crossed the border in the past several days, an indicator that killings and rapes by members of the militias have continued. U.N. officials fear that once the rain-swollen river on the border between the two nations dries up after the rainy season, residents of entire villages will flee into Chad.

Leaders from a village of 30,000 people in the western Darfur region of Sudan met Wednesday with the country's U.N. refugee director and said they would have to cross into Chad if they did not receive protection from the militias, known as the janjaweed.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Ron Redmond, said yesterday that the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Sudan is "an unlikely prospect" and that the camps in Chad are not equipped to handle a sudden influx of so many refugees. Chad has received more than 180,000 refugees escaping violence in Darfur.

"We are concerned that such an influx of 30,000 refugees in one single spot along the Chad-Sudan border, if it were to materialize, would put a strain on our ability to care for and feed refugees in our camp there," Redmond said at a news briefing in Geneva.

The camps in Sudan and Chad are hardly havens. Residents are ravaged by cholera, hepatitis E, malaria and malnutrition. Food, clean water and medicine are becoming harder to come by as rains make roads impassable for relief vehicles. But still, the people come.

"The refugees say that with supplies dwindling and their animals dead or stolen, the refugee camps have become their only chance for survival," Redmond said.

The conflict in western Sudan began in February last year, when rebel groups representing black African farmers and villagers rose up against the Arab-led central government to demand greater economic and political rights. Playing on age-old tribal and territorial rivalries, the government supplied largely Arab militias with arms and allowed them to raze villages. Now Sudan faces what is widely viewed as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 1.2 million people displaced and up to 50,000 dead.

Although a U.N. Security Council resolution threatened Sudan with sanctions if it did not quell the militias' violence by Aug. 30, the government has said it may not be able to rein in the forces it unleashed. Monitors from the African Union and human rights groups have documented new attacks this month by the government and the janjaweed.

A joint U.N.-Sudanese team assigned to evaluate the government's efforts will make an assessment trip next week and report their results to the Security Council on Sept. 2. At a meeting next week, the government is expected to provide officials from the world body with a list of the militias it can control and the steps it has taken to round up and prosecute fighters, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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