CHAD: High civilian causalities in rebel-govt crossfire

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Fighting in recent years in eastern Chad between the government and rebels has usually taken place away from civilian populations, but in the latest battle on 1 April more than 50 civilians were killed and injured.

“One was a little girl who picked up an unexploded ordinance which then exploded in her face,” Jan Peter Stellema, head of mission in Chad for the non-governmental organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told IRIN.

The fighting, which took place in Adé near the border with Sudan, left seven civilians dead and 47 wounded, he said.

Medical workers from MSF and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) treated the injured civilians on the spot in Adé expect for the nine most serious cases which were transferred to facilities at the regional capital Goz Beida.

Stellema said MSF is “pleased that access had been granted to treat the civilians”, but he also expressed concern that Adé's 1,000 inhabitants and the 10,000 displaced Chadians living alongside them remain vulnerable to attack and that they have been neglected by international aid agencies.

"Adé has one of the most underserved populations in eastern Chad. The UN has not gone there because of security concerns nor are other humanitarian groups present.”

Only MSF and the ICRC have projects in the area, Stellema said. “MSF is providing health care but people there need is so much more."

Representatives at ICRC expressed concern that an escalation of the fighting would further hamper the delivery of humanitarian assistance adding that the high number of civilian causalities at Adé was a worrying development.

”The type and setting of past armed confrontations in eastern Chad has led to a very limited number of civilian causalities,” ICRC deputy head in Chad Nicholai Panke told IRIN by email. “ICRC calls on all parties to [continue to] spare civilians from hostilities.”

Hundreds of civilians were killed in Chad’s capital N’djamena in early February when rebels temporarily entered the city. Some of the civilian causalities occurred when government forces attacked rebels with helicopter gun ships, observers told IRIN.

In the meantime border tensions are mounting with Sudan reportedly accusing Chad of sending a helicopter into Darfur which bombed the town of Um Kenjub, and firing a missile on the Sudanese military in the area. Chad’s government denied the report.

Following the 1 April attack in Adé, 47 injured soldiers were flown by the French army, which is based in Chad, for treatment in hospitals in the eastern town of Abeche and N’djamena, a diplomat who asked to remain anonymous told IRIN.

IRIN contacted a French commander in Chad but he would not comment.

State radio said on 3 April that the army recuperated 45 heavily armed pickups that the rebels had abandoned. There is no information on numbers of rebels injured but ICRC confirmed the Chadian army had taken prisoners.

“ICRC will visit them over the next days to monitor their conditions of detention, as we usually do with all captured opposition fighters in Chad,” Panke said.