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CAR-Chad: UNHCR examines chances of helping refugees in southern Chad

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BANGUI, 24 January (IRIN) - A local official of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Central African Republic (CAR) said on Thursday that the UNHCR was considering whether or not it could help some 1,300 CAR refugees in southern Chad.
"We will submit our report to UNHCR Bangui, which will decide together with the Geneva headquarters whether or not the UNHCR may start its operations in southern Chad," Guy Guernas, the UNHCR assistant protection officer, told IRIN.

Early in January, he embarked on a two-week mission in southern Chad to review the situation. He said about 10,000 people, including about 1,317 CAR nationals, had sought refuge in southern Chad villages, following the occupation of the north of CAR by the rebels led by the CAR former army chief of staff, Francois Bozize.

After the defeat in November 2002 of Bozize's forces in Bangui, the CAR capital, the rebels retreated to the centre and the north of the country, areas they still occupy. Speaking to the governors early in January, CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse accused Chadian mercenaries of harassing his nationals while they protected their compatriots in northern CAR.

"We have identified two ethnic groups among the refugees - the Gbaya and the Sarah," said Guernas.

He added that the Gbaya, Bozize's ethnic group, who live in the Bossangoa region (305 km north of Bangui), had fled shelling by government and Mouvement de liberation du Congo troops and attacks by Libyan warplanes. The Sarah, Patasse's ethnic group, inhabit the Markounda region (600 km north of Bangui), and had fled from rebel excesses. "They have received no assistance as such so far," Guernas said.

He said bad roads and insecurity had made it difficult to reach the refugees. Most of the 1,317 refugees were at Komba, a village in the southwest of Chad. Komba is 800 metres from the CAR border, where, Guernas said, they were living peacefully with the local people. Many others live in other villages, but their number is not yet known.

Guernas said UNHCR was also concerned about people being identified as Chadians, who may be CAR nationals of Chadian origin. Thousands of Chadians have been living in the CAR for generations, and many have acquired the CAR citizenship. The UNHCR is in talks with Chadian and CAR authorities in an effort to determine their citizenship.

A second UNHCR mission is due in Chad within two weeks, where the agency's bureau closed in December 2001.

ENDS]

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