As the government backed janjaweed ravaged the Darfur region of Sudan, the region’s civilians beat a retreat across the arid landscape to find safety in neighboring Chad. Despite being in another country, the former Sudanese have been consistently hounded by attackers.
At the end of last week, a rebel movement began a siege against the Chadian government, leaving the fate of thousands of refugees in question. This morning, the first sign of potentially disastrous news made its way to the AP.
Chad rebels said they overwhelmed government troops Sunday and seized an eastern town along the border with Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region in an area with more than 400,000 refugees.
While there’s been no word from the camps themselves, and even the spokesman for the rebels wasn’t able to comment on what was currently happening in the area, it’s clear that the rebel movements aren’t localized to the capital of N’Djamena. With twelve camps operated by the United Nations in the area, containing 420,000 displaced persons, it’s difficult to imagine a worse set of circumstances.
Even more alarming are the recent reports that the Chadian rebels are being armed by the Sudanese government. With their utter lack of concern for the people of Darfur, it’s hard to see how the camps will escape the grasp of the janjaweed if the rebels are able to disrupt the governing of Chad.
It’s been reported for months that the Janjaweed continue to hound and pursue the civilian population of Darfur, but yesterday the Sudanese forces were abruptly confronted by angered Chadian forces. With Libya supplying arms and material to militias in Sudan (for cross-border attacks into Chad) and Sudan supplying arms to rebels inside Chad (particularly the Chad National Concord), it’s not surprising that tensions have continued to grow in the wake of the crisis in Darfur.
Chad’s government accused Sudan’s government-backed Janjaweed militia of involvement in those attacks, but that could not be confirmed.
Chad and Sudan blame each other for supporting rebels in their respective countries. Both have refused the deployment of a UN-mandated force to patrol their border.
“Sudan has not abandoned its sinister project of destabilising Chad,” the government said Monday, calling on the population “to rally more than ever behind the defence and security forces to preserve their democratic gains, and guarantee sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The government statement added that N’Djamena “expects the international community to condemn unequivocally this aggression against Chad from inside Sudan and take appropriate measures to force the Sudanese government to abandon its expansionist and destabilising aims in Chad.”
Both of the countries are currently apologizing for the clash, even while they continue to blame each other for fueling internal violence in their respective nations.
David Buchbinder, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, has made numerous trips to investigate the refugee camps that dot the border between Chad and Sudan. He recently sat down with Jerry Fowler of the Committee on Conscience and shared his observations.
Cross border attacks into Chad continue.
This pattern continues to show signs of ethnically based violence.
Approximately 300 civilians killed.
There is a pattern of violence developing within Chad currently.
Chadian rebels continue to use Darfur as a staging area for attacks against the Chadian government.
Non-Arabs are beginning to arm themselves and creating self defense groups.
Often times, Arabs are identified with the Janjaweed even if they’re not supporters of ethnic strife.
Non-Arab self defense forces are beginning to attack Arab civilians in the local villages.
Lack of security continues to hamper aid missions.
Buchbinder also discussed the possibility of UN peacekeeping forces being dispatched to Chad to protect the refugees. He pointed out that there were three major obstacles to this idea:
Chad needs to give its consent and hasn’t because they’re concerned it would be a stepping stone into Sudan, which would increase their tension with Khartoum.
The UN is nervous about entering a situation where an ongoing conflict (between Chad, sponsored by the French government, is battling an armed rebellion) is continuing and there’s no real sign that steps are being taken for a peaceful solution.
The question of who would contribute to a peacekeeping force is of great concern.
It seems to me that the patterns Buchbinder is seeing are fairly similar to the original outbreak of violence in Darfur in the late 1990s. The government began to arm militia in order to solidify its power with the Arab amirs and the non-Arab villagers began to form themselves into rebel groups in order to keep from being overrun.
If you have a chance, I recommend you listen to Buchbinder’s interview as well as the more recent podcasts from Voices on Genocide Prevention.