Chad threatens to expel new Darfur refugees
N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Chad threatened on Monday to expel any more refugees arriving from Sudan's Darfur region, saying their presence was triggering insecurity and calling on the international community to take them elsewhere.
Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye said the influx of refugees into eastern Chad risked becoming a "bone of contention" between the two countries and said that if the international community did not relocate them, it would do so.
Tensions are already high between N'Djamena and Khartoum after an assault by Chadian rebels based in Darfur on the Chadian capital just over a week ago. Chad accuses Sudan's government of backing the rebels, a charge it denies.
"Chad can no longer support something so harmful to it. Refugees bring insecurity. Today, Chad is under attack from Sudan because of these refugees," Coumakoye said.
"We ask quite simply that they be moved. If not, we will do so ... Their presence is causing us problems. We have had enough. We will move them in the superior interest of our country. We can no longer continue to sacrifice our people."
Thousands more refugees fled into Chad over the weekend to escape Sudanese army and militia attacks in West Darfur, underlining the urgency of a planned deployment by a European Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR) to eastern Chad.
EUFOR has a U.N. mandate to protect more than half a million refugees who have fled fighting in Darfur. But EU commanders suspended the deployment of the force during intense fighting in and around N'Djamena during the rebel assault of February 1-3.
"We're determined it's going to happen and we expect that it will happen this week," said Dan Harvey, a spokesman for EUFOR in Paris. "Cargo and troops will begin arriving this week."
But an alliance of Chad's rebel groups urged EU member states not to send troops, saying the force would not be neutral because it was dominated by former colonial power France, which is contributing more than half of the 3,700 EUFOR soldiers.
The rebels accuse France of using tanks and helicopters, part of a French contingent based in Chad, to help President Idriss Deby beat off their assault on N'Djamena. France denies its forces were directly involved in combat.
RACE AGAINST TIME
The head of U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Chad, Serge Male, told Reuters he had not received any notification from the government of a change of position regarding refugees.
"UNHCR has no good reason to believe the Chadian government will not respect its international obligations ... as it has done up to now," he said.
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the security situation in Chad was very worrying because so many aid workers were evacuated both from N'Djamena and the east, where hundreds of thousands of refugees rely on international aid.
"Of particular concern is that we will need to have a lot of aid material, particularly food, in place before the rain starts in April," he said during a trip to Finland.
"In that context we very much hope that the European force and the accompanying U.N. police force will be able to deploy as quickly as possible to help restore calm."
Chadian Oil Minister Emmanuel Nadingar said the country's 140,000-160,000 barrels per day oil output had not been affected by the fighting. But he said the violence had disrupted prospecting and plans for a new refinery.
EUFOR has insisted its forces will remain strictly neutral in the internal Chadian conflict.
But the rebel alliance said France's "unconditional support" for Deby, whose opponents denounce him as a corrupt and dictatorial ruler, meant EUFOR could not be neutral and had changed the circumstances of the deployment.
After withdrawing from the capital a week ago following battles that killed at least 165 people and injured more than 800, the rebels have moved back towards the border with Sudan.
The rebels said on Sunday they had seized the eastern town of Am Timan and that they were still in control of the centre of the landlocked central African country.
But a French military spokesman, Pascal le Testu, said government forces controlled the central towns of Mongo and Bitkine, which the rebels said they took at the weekend.
(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Dakar, Agnieszka Flak in Helsinki, David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Giles Elgood)
During Soviet times, Sochi gained a reputation for tolerance but the city's once vibrant gay scene has been shrinking as Russia prepares to host the 2014 Winter Games. Slideshow