Ethnic fighting between rival mobs of Muslim and non-Muslim residents killed 12 people and injured another 16 in the south Chadian town of Bebedjia, the country's defence minister said on Monday.
Bebedjia lies about 35 km from Chad's oilfields at Doba, the largest private sector investment ever undertaken in Africa, which have been pumping crude oil for the last year.
Residents in the town, most of whose inhabitants are Christian or practise traditional African religions, say its proximity to the oil project has attracted people looking for jobs, notably nomadic Muslims from the north of Chad.
"A dispute between a trader and a customer escalated," Defence Minister Emmanuel Naringar told IRIN from the town, 600 km south of the capital, Ndjamena.
Officials and aid workers said the violence had flared on Wednesday when a young trader belonging to the Ngambaye ethnic group, dominant in the south-western region of the country, refused to sell a bag to a Muslim from the north. Their fight then sucked in other members of their communities.
"The events were so violent the government could not wait," the minister said. "We came rapidly to calm things down, restore state authority, reassure the people and make sure peaceful coexistence remains a reality in the area."
Another witness in the town said on Monday that several houses and part of the market had been burnt down during the clashes and some families had been forced to seek shelter at the town's hospital and church.
Yorongar Ngarledji, the town's representative in parliament and a member of the opposition, put the death toll much higher, saying 33 people had in fact been killed.
"This is what happens because of the difficulty of cohabitation between the indigenous population who are Christian farmers and the Muslim herdsmen," Ngarledji told IRIN.
Eleyakim Vanambyl, a journalist for a Doba-based radio station, said last week's violence was not the first such incident in the area and that similar tensions had erupted a month ago in the nearby village of Bikou, although no-one was killed.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions