Four people have been killed and at least three others have been injured during fresh clashes between Sudanese refugees and local authorities at a refugee camp in eastern Chad, UN officials said on Thursday.
They said aid workers pulled out of the Goz Amer camp, where the casualties took place, on Wednesday. That was just one day after humanitarian agencies withdrew their staff from four other refugee camps following disturbances.
There are 12 refugee camps spread out in an arc across the semi-desert of eastern Chad, housing about 193,000 refugees from Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
Trouble started at Goz Amer, which is home to around 20,000 refugees, on Tuesday when Chadian paramilitary gendarmes guarding the site arrested three refugees for selling plastic sheeting at the camp's market.
Camp residents retaliating by burning down a community centre in a nearby village on Wednesday and fighting broke out when police intervened.
Ginette Le Breton, an official of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said one gendarme and three refugees had died in the clashes at Goz Amer, about 1,000 km east of the Chadian capital N'Djamena.
Another gendarme and two humanitarian workers had been injured, she added. There was no word on refugee injuries.
"UNHCR is perplexed and surprised by the violence at the camp. The situation at Goz Amer... had been calm for months," Claire Bourgeois, the deputy head of UNHCR at Abeche, the main town in eastern Chad, said in a statement.
Chadian officials too expressed their regret.
"It's horrible when these sorts of incidents arise, but when you welcome such a large number of people, you get all sorts of people coming," Defence Minister Emmanuel Nadingar told IRIN on Thursday.
Nadingar defended the actions of the gendarmes, who were brought into refugee camps last year to maintain security under an agreement with UNHCR.
"We have to keep people in check and I think that's what our forces did. The state did its job which is to maintain order," he said.
UNHCR's Le Breton said it was not clear why the Chadian gendarmes guarding Goz Amer had reacted so strongly to the Sudanese refugees selling the plastic sheeting, which forms part of the aid package given to Darfuris living under the scorching sun in the camps. She said refugees hawked the sheeting in other camps without incident.
Earlier this week, Jan Egeland, the UN's Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, sounded the alarm about Chad in a briefing to the Security Council.
"Competition for water, firewood and grazing lands has led to increased tensions between the refugees and host communities. But very little funding is available to assist the host communities," he told the 15-nation council. "Unless we are able to provide relief equitably to both groups, our aid risks becoming another source of instability."
UNHCR, and the Italian aid groups Intersos and Coopi, have pulled their staff out of the Goz Amer camp until further notice.
Le Breton said that the refugees there had enough food and that the water system and basic health services were still running in the camp, but that school classes and community services had been suspended.
One Chadian minister accused armed men of infiltrating the refugee camps and causing trouble.
"We cannot accept refugees walking around with weapons. We cannot tolerate war arms circulating illegally," Mahamat Zen Bada, the minister for territorial administration was quoted as saying in Thursday's edition of daily newspaper, Le Progres.
Earlier this week aid workers abandoned the refugee camps at Iridimi, Touloum, Mile and Kounoungou, about 400 km to the north of Goz Amer, after attempts to verify the number of refugees staying there sparked similar disturbances.
At Iridimi, seven humanitarian workers were injured after being attacked by refugees brandishing sticks and stones.
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