As thousands of terrified refugees and returnees continue to pour out of the Central African Republic (CAR) and into Chad, the United Nations refugee agency has asked Chadian authorities to intervene to ensure that soldiers stop harassing new arrivals in the southern border town of Gore.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that the agency has received "very worrying" reports of harassment of refugees - particularly of refugee women - by Chadian soldiers, as fighting between the army and rebels in north-western areas of the CAR continue to drive desperate groups into the border areas around Gore.
“They are alleged to have repeatedly tried to abduct refugee women,” Rupert Coleville said, recounting an incident last Tuesday in which Chadian soldiers reportedly sneaked into a transit centre managed by Médecins Sans Frontiers-Belgium in Gore and tried to kidnap refugee women. “Their efforts were thwarted and a complaint was later made to local authorities in Gore.”
Aggravating the increasingly volatile situation, two days ago, some 50 soldiers travelling in pick-up trucks reportedly went on a rampage in Gore, shooting in the air and creating panic in the border town, Mr. Colville said.
"The soldiers then allegedly stole motorcycles, bicycles and radios from refugees and Chadian returnees," Mr. Colville said, adding that those who had gone to the local customs office to reclaim their possessions were reportedly beaten by soldiers. "The belongings were only returned after we complained to central authorities in the Chadian capital, N'djamena." The military have now been ordered to stay out of Gore town.
Meanwhile, perhaps signalling some relief to the war-weary refugees in the region, UNHCR has re-opened its office in N'djamena, and is establishing a field office in Gore, Mr. Colville said. Some 200 refugees who arrived on Tuesday in the town of Yamodo, south of Gore, said they fled fresh fighting for the besieged town of Bossangoa in western CAR.
The agency reported that the number of Central African refugees and Chadian returnees arriving in southern Chad over the past week totalled more than 4,000, bringing to some 30,000 the overall number of arrivals since mid-February.