DAKAR, 2 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - More than 2,000 Central Africans have fled over the border into Chad in the past two weeks to escape village raids and some have reported seeing young girls raped during the attacks, a UN official said on Tuesday.
George Menze, who works for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in the southern Chadian town of Gore, said refugees had told officials about men breaking into their homes, pillaging food, stealing livestock and raping girls.
"The numbers are growing," he told IRIN by telephone. "In these conditions it is not likely people will be able to return anytime soon."
Last week, officials had put the number of newly-arrived refugees at 400, but they cautioned they had not yet been able to access all areas. On Tuesday, Menze said at least 2,200 Central Africans had sought refuge in Chad in the last fortnight.
The raids are the latest show of violence in northern Central African Republic, a country long gripped by unrest with a history of military coups and a volatile border area with neighbouring Chad.
The north of CAR is currently a no-go zone for UN agencies and international aid groups because security cannot be guaranteed. A UN security team is currently there assessing the situation but at the moment it is difficult for aid workers to have an accurate picture of what is going on.
"Without knowing much about the security situation on the other side of the border it is difficult for us to assess the scale of the problem," said Marie Christine Boccoum, a UNHCR official in the Chadian capital, N'djamena.
Some Central African refugees told UNHCR that clashes involving government forces had driven them from their villages.
"Refugees arriving in Chad said an incident on 23 July in the village of Kadjama was between the government forces and the armed group," Boccoum said.
An official with the CAR army confirmed his forces were conducting joint operations with Chadian troops in the region to flush out outlaw groups.
"The joint operation began in early June and we continue to pursue these criminals," the official said.
Aid workers and UN officials say the armed band attacking civilians is thought to be made up of common criminals and former rebels who helped the current president, Francois Bozize, initially seize power in a coup in 2003. Bozize was elected president in May.
UN fights rains to relocate refugees
UN officials have started transporting the latest arrivals to the Amboko refugee camp near Gore, where they will have access to food and other humanitarian assistance.
Menze said that as of Tuesday UNHCR had moved 1,166 CAR refugees to the camp, with truck convoys planned every day for the rest of the week, weather permitting.
The rainy season is in full swing in Chad. Heavy downpours often completely block roads for days at a time.
The influx of more than 2,000 people in the last two weeks of July came just as UNHCR was wrapping up the relocation of thousands of CAR refugees who had fled their homeland in June.
Even before the June and July refugee waves, about 30,000 people were living in camps in Chad after leaving CAR during fighting in 2002.
Some aid workers like Maeke Huelsmann, a senior official for Medecins Sans Frontieres Holland's operation in Chad, expect more people to make a run from CAR.
"I believe there will be more refugees coming. There are no signs security will improve there," she said.
The severe instability in northern CAR means residents are deprived of proper health care and other basic services, aid workers say.
Huelsmann explained that the very sound of the MSF jeep prompted many villagers in the region to scatter and hide.
"These people are really traumatised," she explained. "You see these beautiful villages and you ask yourself why people would leave this to live in a tent or under a sheet of plastic in Chad. They really must be facing tough conditions. They have nothing more to lose."
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