UN’s top rights chief urges protection of civilians in war-torn Chad

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

5 February 2008 – As civilians continue to flee fighting between rebels and government forces in Chad, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today called on both sides to protect those caught in the crossfire.

Louise Arbour issued a statement in Geneva expressing “deep concerns regarding the military escalation in Chad in recent days and the threat this represents for civilians.”

She called on both government forces and rebel groups “to respect international human rights and humanitarian law and to take all appropriate measures to protect civilians.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also voiced alarm at the deteriorating situation, especially its impact on Chad’s large population of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Speaking to reporters in New York today after briefing the Security Council on his recent visit to Africa, Mr. Ban said he is “alarmed” by the deteriorating security situation in the capital, N’Djamena, and elsewhere. “It has devastating consequences not only for the people of Chad and Darfurian refugees seeking shelter there, but also for Darfur itself.”

The Secretary-General pledged that the UN “will do its utmost to help resolve the crisis,” and voiced support for an African Union initiative to try to engage both the Government and the armed opposition groups to find a durable solution to the crisis.

The AU initiative has also received the endorsement of the Security Council, which yesterday demanded an immediate end to the violence.

In a presidential statement, the Council reaffirmed its full support for MINURCAT, the UN mission to Chad and the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) that was authorized by the Council last year to try to protect vulnerable civilians in both countries and to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Up to 20,000 refugees from Chad crossed the Cameroon border since Saturday, when fighting engulfed N'Djamena, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“As of this morning, frightened people were still crossing in a continuous flow,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

The refugee agency is preparing to airlift to Cameroon 90 tonnes of relief supplies, including plastic sheeting, jerry cans, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and plastic rolls – enough for 14,000 refugees.

The agency is also working to find better accommodations for the estimated 6,000 to 7,000 refugees staying at a transit centre who are exposed to the elements and have been building bonfires last night to get warm.

In volatile eastern Chad, meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners continue to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people, but yesterday evacuated 25 non-essential staff from its main field operations base at Abeché following reports of bombing and attacks near Adre, east of Abeché near the border with Sudan’s Darfur region.

While Abeché is “calm but tense,” further to the north, in Guereda, a series of armed attacks on UNHCR and other aid agencies last week forced an evacuation of most staff. The agency spokesperson reported another bandit attack on Mile refugee camp near Guereda yesterday by armed men who fired weapons and stole the sixth vehicle in a week. No injuries were reported.

UNHCR and its partners operate 12 large refugee camps in eastern Chad with some 240,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled Darfur. Another 50,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) are in camps in southern Chad. In addition, the agency is involved in providing help to some of the 180,000 Chadians who have been displaced internally by earlier unrest in Chad.

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