(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Aid workers return to camps despite breakdown in talks with deserters

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Humanitarian groups assisting Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad have redeployed staff to camps in the Hadjer Hadid area despite a breakdown in talks between army deserters and the government.

“Everyone has returned to the camps of Breidjing and Treguine,” said Ginette Le Breton, public information officer for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), speaking from the main eastern town of Abeche.

UNHCR and other aid groups a few days ago cut back their presence amid tension in the region, where the government said dozens of deserters had fled.

Essential services, however, had been maintained in the two camps that are home to 40,000 of the 200,000 Sudanese refugees sheltered in eastern Chad.

Government officials have said the area is quiet and the situation is under control.

But a government bid to enter into talks with the deserters failed last weekend when the mutineers demanded Ndjamena first meet their demands.

“We demanded before any discussion take place that the government free all political prisoners,” Yaya Dillo Djerou, a telecommunications engineer who heads the group, told IRIN by telephone.

The deserter said the group, known as SCUD after the Rally for Change, National Unity and Democracy, was prepared to talk to the government but he criticised the make-up of the group who contacted them last weekend as being unsatisfactory.

“The government sent people who were close to the regime, who are involved in the Mafia-style management of the country, but we demanded to talk to an official delegation representing all of the country’s institutions, such as government and parliament,” he said.

Dillo Djerou denied government allegations that the deserters represented a small group of several dozen men, saying instead that they numbered “many more than 600 armed men with armoured vehicles.”

He also denied that government forces had ousted the deserters from the town of Hadjer Hadid.

“Some of our men, around 200 riding 21 vehicles, left Hadjer Hadid to meet up with us but there were no clashes and no shots were exchanged,” he said.

An IRIN correspondent who visited the town on Monday said it was calm. Residents had said that 100 or so armed men had stayed for two weeks in caves south of the town but had departed last week.

Also on Monday, Prime Minister Pascal Yoadimnaji insisted that the government had the situation under control.

Speaking after meeting President Idriss Deby in his Abeche home, he said: “I must reassure the Chadian people that all is well. The situation is under control. There has been a lot of exaggeration but in the coming days all will be settled.”

Tension within the ranks of the armed forces is not a new challenge for Deby, who took power in a coup in 1990, then was elected president in 1996 and 2001 in elections the opposition said were rigged.

In May 2004, dissident soldiers staged a rebellion in N’djamena but were put down by loyalist forces. The mutineers, most of whom are from the Zaghawa people like Deby, said Chad was not doing enough to back the largely-Zaghawa rebels in Darfur.

Last year, Deby accused neighbouring Sudan of backing a 3,000-strong rebel force operating at the border.

But Dillo Djerou, who is Zaghawa, said ethnic questions played no part in the dissension within the army. He also said the deserters were not linked to the Darfur rebel movements.

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