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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chad says nearly 40 killed in Janjaweed raids

N'DJAMENA, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Nearly 40 people were killed in clashes between Chad's security forces and Arab raiders on horseback who attacked two eastern villages, burning homes and mutilating their victims, the government said on Tuesday.

It said the attackers, who struck at the weekend, gouged out and carried off the eyes of eight government soldiers they killed and disembowelled one of 15 Chadian civilians also slain.

Five Sudanese refugees from a nearby U.N.-run refugee camp were also killed during the raids on Aradibe and Habile, which escalated into clashes with the Chadian army on Dec. 16 and 17, the government added.

"The two villages were partially burned down," Communications Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said, adding that nine of the attackers were killed and four taken prisoner.

He identified the raiders as Janjaweed, a term which loosely signifies "devils on horseback" in Arabic. It is used to designate Arab militiamen who have killed and raped civilians and plundered villages on both sides of Chad's eastern border with Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region.

Foreign humanitarian workers said the attacks took place close to a refugee camp, Goz Amer, run by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Civilians displaced by the fighting sought refuge in the camp, which houses mostly Sudanese refugees from Darfur.

"With the attacks so close to the Goz Amer refugee camp, which has over 18,000 residents, the refugees are understandably tense and concerned for their security. They are afraid to work their fields," UNHCR said in a statement.

The violence occurred just days before UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres was due to visit Chad on Thursday and Friday for talks with President Idriss Deby's government. He would also visit eastern Chad, which shelters some 232,000 Sudanese refugees.

"He will be discussing with the Chadian authorities how to ensure security and protection for both victims of the conflict and those who (are) trying to help them," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said in Geneva.

He added the agency remained committed to "maintaining the humanitarian lifeline to eastern Chad which at the moment is very precarious due to insecurity".


Aid workers said the latest attacks appeared to repeat the pattern of a wave of violence that has swept eastern Chad in recent weeks, in which armed Arabs turned on Africans.

"The witnesses said it was their Arab neighbours who attacked on horseback," one relief worker, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

UNHCR said these kind of attacks by marauding raiders on camels and horseback "mirror the tactics of the notorious Janjaweed across the border in Darfur", where tens of thousands have been killed in ethnic and political violence since 2003.

"Government forces countered the attack in heavy fighting around the village of Habile ... a total of 22 villagers and internally displaced Chadians were killed ... , and 93 homes were burned," the U.N. agency said.

Deby has accused neighbouring Sudan of backing and arming both the Janjaweed and Chadian rebels fighting a military campaign to end his 16-year rule. Khartoum denies this.

Following the recent inter-communal clashes which killed hundreds, Chad's government declared a state of emergency last month in the affected areas and the capital N'Djamena.
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