Please send UN troops, say desperate refugees in Chad

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Fatuma Ahmed buried her baby last night. The morning after, as the temperature touched 40C under the full blast of the sun, mourners gathered on plastic mats outside her straw hut to drink tea and offer condolences. All could tell similar stories of pain and suffering. Of how their father, husband or brother was killed. Of how their mother, wife or sister was raped. And all knew who to hold responsible.

Sudan's janjaweed militia, armed Arabs on horseback responsible for so much of the violence in neighbouring Darfur, are carrying out attacks in Chad daily. Chadian Arabs, who have long lived peacefully with non-Arab tribes in eastern Chad, have joined the janjaweed in their attacks on civilians. It is a conflict that United Nations officials are warning could become a genocide.

The attack that caused the death of Fatuma's baby displays disturbing parallels with the conflict in Darfur. Their village was razed by the Arab militia, armed with AK-47s. Men were shot and killed, women were raped, every last hut was burned to the ground. In all, 80 people were killed.

Following the attack, Fatuma and some 200 women and children began the long walk to safety. Four men on horseback attacked them once more. Fatuma, heavily pregnant, was thrown to the ground and beaten. Her baby, Fatimi, had little chance of survival. She was just two months old when she died. "I don't know why they did this," she said. "Somebody must help us."

As the bloodshed rises in Chad, there are calls from humanitarian agencies working in the region for UN troops to be deployed. A UN technical assessment team visited Chad earlier this month and will recommend to the Security Council next week a force of eight battalions, some 6,000 troops, be sent to the region to quell the violence.

Officially, more than 120,000 Chadians have been displaced by the violence - the number has quadrupled in the past nine months as attacks on villages have soared. The word "displaced" does not do justice to the terror the janjaweed have inflicted. Men armed with AK-47s, M14s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers have attacked their village, burning huts, raping women and throwing babies into the fire.

Their cattle and their goats, their horses and their donkeys have all been stolen. Their harvest has been destroyed. Every last item that they owned has gone and they have been driven from their home - land their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born on. They have fled to the refugee camps set up by the UN High Commission for Refugees, the nearest thing there is to a safe haven in eastern Chad for the 230,000 people who have crossed the border from Sudan fleeing the violence in Darfur. Informal settlements have been set up on the outskirts of the camps, themselves set up on the fringes of small towns.

It has, inevitably, put impossible pressure on limited supplies of food and water. The 7,000 residents of Goz Beida, who already had to cope with 15,000 Darfuri refugees, are now playing host to 30,000 displaced people. "This is one of the hardest places in the world to find water," said Oxfam's Nicki Bennett. "We are trying ... to locate new water sources so people can get more than four or five litres a day."

The inhabitants of Teso, a village of 1,600 in Darsila, are now making their home in Gassire, a site for displaced Chadians near Goz Beida. "For the past year, the janjaweed attacked the village and took the cattle and killed our people," said Khater Abdul Karim, the chief. "Some of them were from Chad, some were from Sudan. They were all in the military uniform of Sudan. We had 1,400 cattle - the janjaweed took them all. We had 16 horses - the janjaweed took them all. We tried to escape but the janjaweed chased us and caught us and killed 10 of our people. They took our goats... We cannot go back."

A short walk away, on the outskirts of the camp, people from the village of Karo have recently arrived. "The janjaweed took our women and made violent relations with them," said Abdullah, a village elder. Even in this camp, with a constant presence of international aid agencies such as Oxfam and Médecins sans Frontières, they do not feel safe.

"The conflict is about a lack of resources," said Ms Bennett. "This is an area where traditionally there have always been rivalries between different groups around water, land and pasture. Previously there may have been small tensions. But these rivalries are spiralling out of control. People are forming armed groups and attacking each other."

The region's spiritual leader, the Sultan of Darsila, has tried to broker a peace deal but, by his own admission, he has been unsuccessful. "We had 11 different Arab tribes living together with all the different non-Arab tribes," he said. "They have lived together, they have married together. No one said this is an Arab, this is a Dajo. We have the same history, the same culture and the same economy.

"It is not a problem of principles. It is a problem of politics. When it becomes a political problem the traditional leadership structures are bypassed."

Few people can offer solutions. Matthew Conway, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Chad drew parallels with the genocide in Rwanda. "We have communities who have lived together peacefully for generations, in many cases have inter-married, which are now turning on each other. We risk reaching a point of no return. We are at a point where immediate action needs to be taken."

There is little action the Dajo can take themselves. The janjaweed are armed with Kalashnikovs, M14s and G3s - a semi-automatic rifle used by the Sudanese military. The Dajo have bows and arrows, plus the odd spear. "They broke our spears and our bows," said Abdul Karim. But the Dajo are undeterred. Between them they have 75 bows and several tubes of arrows left. A self-defence group has been formed.

What they lack in firepower and ability they make up for in determination. another refuge claims to have killed 10 janjaweed guerrillas, and is prepared to do it again. "I will fight with these arrows," he said. Until the UN Security Council agrees to send troops - and then actually sends them - Chad's civilians will have to rely on men like him with their bows and arrows.

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