Darfur conflict spills into Chad

The UN is expected to vote Tuesday on a French plan to send peacekeepers to Chad.

They came from the east without warning, spraying bullets into huts and burning and pillaging everything in sight.

But this attack – and hundreds like it – happened here in Chad, across Sudan's western border, last fall. And the victims weren't black tribes. They were Arabs.

"Blacks have heard about their brothers in Sudan being killed by janjaweed so they are angry and attacked us Arabs here," says a Chad village chief Asair Salman, who says he saw his grandson and nephew die in the attack last November.

The violence spawned in Darfur has spread deeper into Chad and the Central African Republic. That's why the UN Security Council in New York is expected to vote Tuesday to send a new UN-European force of up to 4,000 peacekeepers here for one year. Many in Chad are concerned that with the end of the rainy season, making roads passable again, fresh fighting could erupt.

When Chad's Arabs launched reprisal attacks against black militias last fall, with the help of janjaweed from Sudan, they killed thousands of people, according to UN officials, and caused more than 170,000 Chadians to flee to camps here in eastern Chad. Nearby are other camps, already brimming with more than 300,000 Sudanese refugees.

"Interethnic clashes were the main reason Chadians were displaced, and the day [they] go back to their villages, it will be the beginning of more interethnic conflict" says Musonda Shinkindi, head of the UN refugee mission here where most Chadian refugee camps are based. "Everyone sees the dry season as a sign [of the potential for more violence], because people can move around freely," he says. But he doesn't expect most refugees to risk going back to their villages until there is more security on the ground.

EU-UN troops, led by France, could be in Chad and the Central African Republic as soon as next month. A draft of the UN mandate submitted by France calls for UN troops to work alongside Chadian police and security forces. But many question whether that's enough manpower to quell any violence that breaks out.

"Four thousand troops is not sufficient, because we have a very long border," says Abdullaye Ahmadaye Bakhit, the representative to the traditional head of all the black tribes in Darsilla, the province hit hardest by the clashes. "The janjaweed launch cross-border raids with 6,000 to 7,000 [men] at a time."

Others question whether the international troops will be enough help.

"Any international force must be able to act, not just watch, like [they do] in Darfur," says Mohammed Ali, the secretary general of Darsilla, in reference to the outmanned 7,000 African Union troops in Darfur, which are not allowed to engage warring factions in combat. In July, the UN approved sending a force of 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, but they are not expected until next year.

The French draft says that UN blue helmets in Chad would be "authorized to take all necessary measures" to protect civilians, refugees, and humanitarian relief workers and convoys.

Life in the eastern Chad city of Goz Beida was calm before last fall's clashes, says Mr. Ali. But now the influx of Chadian refugees – and the arrival of more than 25 different relief groups – have quadrupled the population, straining already scarce supplies of water, firewood, and grazing land for animals that the refugees brought with them.

Scores of smaller towns in the area are facing a similar situation, including the market town of Kerfi, which has seen its population triple. The rains have filled riverbeds called wadis that are dry for most of the year, and food aid to Kerfi ran out in July. The next shipment won't get through until next month.

Both displaced Arabs and blacks here in Chad struggle with hunger, and the fear of future attacks.

Before Arabs raided his village last November, Haroun Daout says everyone in his village ate three or four good meals a day, including tomatoes, melons, guavas, and mangos. But now, he says, they eat porridge twice a day in makeshift huts in Kerfi, while Arabs let their animals graze on the crops in his village in Chad, and they cut down all of his fruit trees.

He's one of more than a dozen Chadian village chiefs gathered on a recent day to recount how they had to move their respective villages to this camp in the wake of deadly Arab raids.

Saleh Matar lost 36 people when his village was attacked last fall. "I cannot describe my feelings," he says through clenched teeth. "The men may be able to forgive the Arabs someday, but the women and children can't. When they see Arabs in the marketplace, they feel awful."

"We are afraid the Arabs will attack again," says Mr. Daout. "We want military forces in every locality so we can return to our homes."

But in the seminomadic camps scattered on the edges of towns, Arabs say they are the vulnerable ones. "After last fall's events, the blacks have hate in their hearts," says Mr. Salman.

The Arabs say that the black tribes have formed an alliance to expel them, and that black farmers block their access to water by attacking them and their animals at the wadis.

"If an animal's owner finds his animal dead, he cannot let it pass," says Arab resident Mohammed Abdullahi Adam. "If this problem is not resolved, there will be no peace."

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