June 6, 2008 / 6:08 PM / 11 years ago

Chad refugees petition U.N. Security Council envoys

(Updates with envoys meeting prime minister, not Deby)

By Louis Charbonneau

GOZ BEIDA, Chad, June 6 (Reuters) - Refugees from conflict in Sudan's Darfur and Chad appealed to visiting U.N. Security Council envoys on Friday for more international protection so they can return to their homes.

On the sixth day of a 10-day tour of African conflict spots, the ambassadors travelled to Goz Beida in eastern Chad to visit United Nations-run camps sheltering Sudanese refugees from Darfur and Chadian civilians displaced by violence.

They later met Chad's Prime Minister Youssouf Saleh Abbas in the capital N'Djamena and urged the authorities to seek reconciliation with neighbour Sudan, France's U.N. ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters.

Each country blames the other for cross-border rebel attacks this year.

Sudanese refugees at the Djabal camp in Goz Beida told the U.N. envoys they wanted to return to their Darfur homes, but only if the U.N. could guarantee their safety against attacks by the feared "Janjaweed" militia allied to the Sudanese army.

"We've been here too long already," Darfuri refugee Fatime Mahamat Arbab told the ambassadors.

"Today we want to go home but our land is still occupied by other people ... They must all leave before we return. We need security."

Sudan is under pressure to allow quicker deployment of a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, which is to reach 26,000 at full strength. There are still only around 9,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, a region the size of France.

Chadian civilians have also been forced to leave their homes by Janjaweed raids coming from Sudan and intercommunal ethnic violence stirred up by these attacks, as well as by offensives by Chadian anti-government rebels in the turbulent east.

"The (Chadian) government is doing its best, but they can't protect us. What do the Janjaweed want? They want everybody to leave this place so they can occupy it," a leader of the displaced Chadians told the U.N. envoys at the Gouroukoun camp at Goz Beida. He also appealed for increased protection.

Reflecting the violence that has swept in both directions across the Chad-Sudan border, there are 250,000 Sudanese refugees scattered in a dozen camps in eastern Chad and 180,000 internally displaced Chadians, U.N. officials say.

Experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced in Darfur's five-year conflict. Khartoum says only 10,000 people have been killed.

Sudan broke diplomatic relations with Chad last month after accusing Deby's government of arming and directing a May 10 raid against Khartoum by rebels from the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Chad denies the charge and accuses Khartoum of backing anti-Deby rebels who attacked the Chadian capital in February.


The U.N. Council envoys met Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Thursday and asked him to end the enmity with Chad.

The ambassadors had been due to meet Chadian President Idriss Deby on Friday but Ripert said he was not in N'Djamena.

"We will explain to the Chadian authorities that it is not the time to support rebel groups anywhere in the region, but to talk and to look towards cooperation," Ripert said before the meeting with prime minister Abbas.

He added the Security Council ambassadors wanted Deby to respect the commitments he and Bashir made in a non-aggression pact signed in the Senegalese capital Dakar in mid-March and to cooperate with mediation efforts by the African Union.

In the last two years, Chad and Sudan have come close to all-out war over the question of support for rebels hostile to each other's governments. The Sudanese and Chadian insurgents come from tribes living on both sides of the Darfur frontier.

Ripert said the U.N. envoys would also discuss the humanitarian situation in eastern Chad, where a European Union military protection force (EUFOR) has been deployed this year.

EUFOR's French ground commander, General Jean-Philippe Ganascia, said the force's patrols were constantly coming across armed groups in the border region. "It's the kind of country where even shepherds carry weapons," he said. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/) (Additional reporting by Moumine Ngarmbassa in Goz Beida; writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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