A series of clashes involving unidentified gunmen took place in eastern Chad earlier this month, but they did not affect the camps holding more than 200,000 refugees from Sudan's troubled Darfur region, UN and government officials said Monday.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) both confirmed reports that a number of gunfights had taken place in the first week of January in southeastern Chad near the border with Sudan. These incidents caused the deaths of several people, they added.
WFP official Stefano Porretti told IRIN that “the incidents did not occur around the camps.”
“Villages in the region where the camps are located were attacked by non-identified assailants. The situation apparently has returned to normal,” he said.
A UNHCR official in Abeche confirmed this. “The incidents have had no effect whatsoever on the camps, none of our programmes have been destabilised. The incidents were no worse than in the past,” he told IRIN.
Prime Minister Moussa Facki Mahamat said last weekend after returning from a two-week tour of eastern Chad, that he knew of two incidents near the Sudanese frontier in which people had died. But he added: “As far as I’m aware there were no attacks by armed men around the refugee camps situated in the Goz Beida region.”
Mahamat told the French news agency AFP that three people had been killed “in a conflict between farmers and herdsmen near Ade, in the Adre region.”
A policeman died in a separate incident when highway bandits attacked a convoy of traders, he added.
“Apart from these incidents, nothing has occurred to threaten the safety of the refugees or of the people who live around the camps,” the prime minister said.
In a separate development, a senior Chadian official said fresh peace talks were due to resume in Abeche this week between the Sudanese government and a new and relatively unknown rebel group in Darfur, the National Movement for Reform and Development (NMRD).
Mahamat Saleh Adoun, one of Chadian President Idriss Deby’s top aides, told IRIN that delegations from both sides were present in Abeche on Monday, but he gave no other details. Khartoum's team was led by peace negotiator Sharif Ahmad Umar Badr, according to Sudanese radio.
Little is known about the NMRD, which came into the news spotlight in December when it signed a ceasefire with the Sudanese government following talks in N'djamena mediated by the Chadian government..
The rebel group claims to have split away from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of two main rebel groups in Darfur. The other is the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).
These mainstream rebel groups are conducting separate peace talks with the Sudanese government in the Nigerian capital Abuja, mediated by the African Union. The negotiations began in August, but have made little progress. They were suspended in December without the two sides setting an exact date for a fresh meeting.
The NMRD, on the other hand, agreed a ceasefire with the Sudanese government on 17 December and on 3 January the group struck a deal with Khartoum to promote the return of refugees from Chad to areas which it claims to control.
However, UN refugee officials in eastern Chad told IRIN last week they had seen no evidence of fugitives from Darfur trekking back across the border, despite images purporting to show such returns broadcast by Sudanese state television and affirmations by Chadian officials that some Sudanese refugees had gone home.
The conflict in western Sudan has been running for nearly two years since Darfur rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, alleging it had neglected the region.
The rebels accuse Khartoum of using the Janjawid, an Arab militia which raids villages riding on horses and camels, to put down the rebellion. They also claim that the government, through the Janjawid, is waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur.
More than 1.85 million people have been either internally displaced or have fled to Chad and tens of thousands of villagers have been killed or have died of famine and disease since the conflict began in February 2003, according to the United Nations.
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