Ethnic violence is spreading in eastern Chad, sending residents fleeing from the region where more than 220 villagers have been killed by gunmen in the past week, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
Entire villages have been razed in areas bordering the western Sudan region of Darfur where some 200,000 people have died in more than three years of bloodshed.
“There are ethnic conflicts happening on both sides of the border, both in Chad and in Sudan. What is very worrying is the intensity and the brutality of these attacks,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a briefing with journalists.
“This is a very worrying sign that maybe the conflict in Darfur might be becoming regionalized,” he said.
UNHCR said aid workers travelled to the Koukou area and found at least one village, Louboutigue, had been burned to the ground. Aid workers said villagers sought shelter at a site for displaced people at Habile, which has already reached its capacity.
“On the road from Louboutigue to Habile site, the joint mission saw dozens of people fleeing with their belongings — their donkeys carrying bags of food supplies,” the UNHCR said in a statement.
“Vulnerable people, such as the elderly, hid in the bush. Some are still in hiding,” it added.
The number of deaths or injuries was not known from the latest attacks in the area southeast of the eastern Chad town of Goz Beida.
The more than 220 deaths reported by the United Nations on Thursday were from areas to the southwest of the town where raiders had struck at least seven villages since Nov. 4.
Humanitarian workers in Chad said the attacks were carried out by gun-toting Arab tribesmen against African villagers often armed with nothing more than bows, arrows and swords.
“It is very difficult to ascertain with any certainty who the authors of these attacks are,” Spindler said.
While some witnesses described them as “local Arabs” from Chad, it was possible they had crossed over from Sudan, he said.
Darfur instability spreading
The instability in eastern Chad has begun to mirror that in Darfur, where government-backed mounted Arab militia known as Janjaweed have attacked villagers and burnt homes in a war with rebels that erupted in 2003. More than 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, some into Chad.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on Friday called for Sudan’s government to curb and disarm militia in West Darfur, blamed for attacks two weeks ago that killed more than 50 civilians and drove thousands from their homes.
West Darfur had seen “consolidation of armed militias” over the past month amid increased reports of arms being distributed to groups in and near El-Geneina, Arbour warned in a statement.
Violence has also surged in Chad in recent weeks as the end of annual rains has allowed armed groups on horseback and pick-up trucks to cross river beds and marshes.
Chad has called for the deployment of international peacekeepers.
The United States and its allies have been pressing Sudan to accept a U.N. resolution to deploy a 20,000-strong U.N. force in Darfur, replacing the under-funded and ill-equipped African Union force that has failed to stop the fighting.
But Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir says the presence of U.N. troops would amount to an invasion.