- New fighting in the north-western part of the Central African Republic has led to a stream of refugees into Chad. The government says it is fighting an unidentified rebel group, but observers hold the "rebels" may be unpaid mercenaries used in the March 2003 military coup that brought President François Bozizé to power.
According to the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, more than 8,600 Central Africans, mainly women and children, have arrived in Chad, fleeing the escalating violence between government forces and so far unidentified armed groups in the northern part of the country. These refugees come in addition to thousands of M'bororo cattle herders that have fled into Cameroon earlier this year.
Georges Menze, the head of the UNHCR in Goré, southern Chad, says that thousands of Central Africans are currently fleeing their homes in the Ouham region in the northern part of the country. "Most of them told us they fled their homes by night because of the insecurity, which has intensified since 3 June," he said.
The refugees however yet had to give detailed information regarding the fighting that was going on in the Central African Republic. Attacks from "unidentified armed groups" had intensified last month and government troops have engaged in battles with these groups since the beginning of June.
While the government in Bangui remains silent on these "rebels", many observers expect the armed groups to be fighters formerly loyal to President Bozizé, helping him to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Ange-Félix Patassé in March 2003. Mr Bozizé last month legitimised his rule in a presidential election where Mr Patassé was banned from standing candidate.
The current ruler in late 2002 launched a war against the Bangui government, recruiting mercenaries from Chad. Large numbers of General Bozizé's rebels were however never paid for their efforts or received much less than they had expected. They have since that organised armed gangs in the north of the country, raiding farms and kidnapping herders and businessmen. Until now, these gangs have been left operating in peace, without interference from government troops.
In the western-most part of the Central African Republic, Mr Bozizé's ex-mercenaries have caused a large part of the M'bororo people to flee into neighbouring Cameroon. Human rights activists speak of "ethnic cleansing campaigns" as the armed gangs equipped with name lists attack M'bororos. The cattle herders are reputed for their relative wealth.
In the northern part of the country, which is now producing thousands of refugees, the attacks on civilians however do not seem to follow ethnic lines. Many of the civilians arriving Chad were also reported to have been able to bring some of their belongings, including cattle.
In southern Chad, UNHCR now has rushed in emergency supplies, such as high-protein biscuits, plastic sheeting, blankets and cooking sets, for the refugees, some of whom are staying with impoverished families around the Chadian town of Yambodo, near the Central African border, Mr Menze said. "Food is scarce for everyone because of the drought and poor harvest," he warned.
Southern Chad already hosts 30,000 refugees from the Central African Republic in two UNHCR camps. Most of them arrived after the March 2003 military coup that brought President Bozizé to power. He was elected to the position last month. Eastern Chad further hosts more than 210,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur in 12 UNHCR camps.
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