More than 8,000 people have fled from the Central African Republic (CAR) into southern Chad over the past fortnight to escape a new outbreak of fighting in the northwest of the country, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday.
The new arrivals joined 30,000 other CAR refugees who have been living in exile in southern Chad for almost three years, UNHCR official Bernard Ntwari told IRIN by telephone from N’Djamena.
He said the latest exodus began following clashes between government troops and a rebel group that began on 3 June.
Government officials in in the CAR capital Bangui, where President Francois Bozize began a new elected term of office on Saturday, confirmed that clashes took place, but they did not identify the group involved.
Most of the 8,632 refugees registered so far in Chad are being sheltered by local people in the rural communities of Betel, Bekandja, Matita and Bilbo, but some are still sleeping out, Ntwari said.
“Small groups of people were still arriving on Tuesday with livestock and personal effects,” the UNHCR official said.
A team of people from different UN agencies and non-governmental groups was currently in the area assessing needs, Ntwari said.
As the eyes of the world focus on the plight of nearly 200,000 refugees who have fled into the semi-desert of eastern Chad from Sudan's troubled Darfur region, some 30,000 refugees from the CAR are still living in relative obscurity in the open woodland of southern Chad.
There are camps at Amboko, near the border town of Gore, and Yaroungo, near Maro, 250 km to the east.
More than 40,000 refugees from CAR flooded into southern Chad after fighting broke out between former president Ange-Felix Patasse and his then army chief of staff, General Bozize in October 2002, but some subsequently went home.
Bozize eventually ousted Patasse in March 2003 with the assistance of several hundred Chadian mercenaries.
Last month, the 58-year-old army officer legitimised his rule in CAR, winning 64 percent of the vote in the second round of a presidential election and defeating former prime minister Martin Ziguele.
Most of the Chadian fighters who helped Bozize to gain power have been given a cash payment and sent home, but last year these idle ex-combatants were blamed for growing banditry on both sides of the Chad-CAR frontier and even in northern Cameroon.
Last April, about 3,000 refugees from the Mbororo ethnic group of northwestern CAR crossed into northern Cameroon seeking shelter from groups of former pro-Bozize gunmen who had started raiding their villages and stealing their cattle.
Preparing the CAR refugees in southern Chad for a longer stay, UN agencies moved them to new sites last year where they have access to cultivable land.