The governor of Chad's eastern Ouaddai region urged the United Nations on Thursday to channel more aid to the local Chadian population. This has been sidelined as the international community rushes to help 200,000 refugees who have fled across the border from Sudan's troubled Darfur province.
"The situation of the local population is very worrying given last year's poor rainfall, " Haroun Saleh told Wendy Chamberlin, the visiting head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
"The UNHCR has decided to devote just five percent of its aid for refugees to the needs of the local population. But their needs are enormous and this aid is not going to be sufficient," he continued.
Saleh also repeated Chadian government charges that the authorities in Khartoum have recently been helping Chadian rebels who are said to be gathering in Darfur, close to the Chadian border.
"We think it is inimical for a friendly country like Sudan, for which we have been making enormous sacrifices for several years, to nurture an armed rebellion on its territory not far from the border," the governor said.
He met Chamberlin as she arrived in eastern Chad to visit a refugee camp after touring camps for internally displaced people within Darfur.
Chamberlin, who became acting head of UNHCR earlier this year, gave assurances that the United Nations would do more to help the people of eastern Chad, most of whom belong to the same Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur ethnic groups as the refugees who have flooded in across the Sudanese border.
"We understand that the presence of the refugees in Chad creates difficulties for the local population. We are going to provide resources to help these people," she said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) already has plans to provide food aid to 150,000 inhabitants of eastern Chad this year. Most are farmers and semi-nomadic herdsmen who eke out a meagre living in this broad expanse of semi-desert that bakes in the sun by day and cools to bone-chilling lows at night.
Refugees from Sudan began arriving in the region soon after the conflict in Darfur erupted in February 2003 and initially they received a warm welcome from their Chadian kinsmen. However, competition for scarce resources in the arid region subsequently led to a series of clashes over water, firewood and pasture.
After her meeting with Saleh, in Abeche, the main town in eastern Chad, Chamberlin flew on to inspect conditions at Touloum refugee camp further east, before heading to the capital N'Djamena for talks with the government.
In his address to the UN official, the regional governor echoed charges made by President Idriss Deby earlier this month that the Sudanese government had helped to arm and finance a force of 3,000 Chadian rebels near the border town of El Geneina.
He added that trouble was already spilling across the border.
Saleh told Chamberlin that he himself had been attacked recently by armed bandits who had killed two of his companions. Last Friday another senior official in his regional administration came under fire from unidentified gunmen, he added.
The governor launched into a tirade against the Sudanese government despite moves last week to defuse tension between the two countries. Two Sudanese envoys visited N'Djamena for talks with Deby.
The Chadian leader subsequently agreed to resume his role as a mediator between Khartoum and the Darfur rebels, provided the Sudanese authorities removed all armed Chadian dissidents from the border.
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