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As security deteriorates in Chad, UN voices concern over safety of aid workers

UN news

August 8, 2006

Following a recent attack on aid workers in eastern Chad, where hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees have sought escape from the troubled Darfur region of their country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today expressed concern about the safety of relief personnel in the area.

"UNHCR is very concerned about the safety of humanitarian workers in eastern Chad following a deterioration in the security situation there," agency spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva.

The situation around Guereda is particularly worrisome because three aid workers were attacked there with rifle butts last Friday by seven men wearing military uniforms. One of the three, who were all at the compound of a non-governmental organization (NGO) when the attack took place, was later evacuated to a French military hospital in Abeche.

The intruders also stole money that was to be used to pay salaries and for the agency's work in refugee camps, according to UNHCR.

The incident marked the seventh time humanitarian workers have been targeted in the Guereda area since May. Three weeks ago, two vehicles from another NGO were stolen. At the beginning of July, two UNHCR cars were stolen from our Guereda office after armed men overpowered the guards.

The security situation also remains unstable in other areas of eastern Chad, including Abeche, where a staff member serving with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) was shot and seriously injured last May.

"We are extremely concerned about these incidents," Ms. Pagonis said. "The growing insecurity is making it more difficult and more dangerous for humanitarian agencies and their staff to provide assistance to Sudanese refugees from Darfur in the area."

The agency, which has voiced its concerns to the Chadian authorities and international parties, is seeking for an increase in the number of gendarmes in eastern Chad so that aid workers can operate without fear of attack.

"At present there are only 235 gendarmes charged with protecting aid workers and refugees. We are hoping to see an extra 100 deployed to the region in the near future," Ms. Pagonis explained.

Conflict between various ethnic groups, especially in the region of Guereda, is also adding to the tension for aid workers and the local population, according to UNHCR, which is taking care of some 213,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

On Monday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported a spike in attacks on relief personnel in Darfur, where more aid workers have been killed in the past two weeks than in the past two years.

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