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War in Sudan's Darfur region has spread into Chad

ADRE, Chad—The war in Sudan's Darfur region, where more than 200,000 people have been killed in what the Bush administration calls a genocide, is growing deadlier and more complicated.

Since the beginning of the year, militias backed by the Sudanese government are crossing over almost daily into neighboring Chad and freely attacking Darfur refugees and Chadian civilians in villages along the lengthy, desolate border.

Making matters worse, about 8,000 Chadian rebels have set up camp in Darfur. On March 30, they clashed with Chadian government forces 60 miles south of the strategic border town of Adre. Dozens of fighters were killed in an attack that Chad said Sudan supported.

The mounting violence has driven at least 55,000 Chadians from their homes, and camps for Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad are swelling with hundreds of new arrivals each week. Much of the region is beyond the reach of relief agencies, and the U.N. World Food Program says several thousand people will go hungry in the coming months.

There has long been trouble between Sudan and Chad, uneasy neighbors in a region of crosscutting ethnic and tribal loyalties. At the start of the Darfur war, in 2003, Sudan armed Arab militias called the janjaweed to quell a political uprising by Darfur's black villagers. Many of the militiamen came from Chadian Arab tribes, and they occasionally attacked in eastern Chad.

But with hostilities between the countries increasing, thousands of people who'd fled janjaweed attacks in Sudan now find they are no safer on the other side of the border.

"Even though we are in another country, we are still being tormented," said Yacoub Abakar, 43, a balding Sudanese with sad eyes. Abakar was shot in his left foot in a janjaweed attack last month near the Chadian border town of Goungour, where he's lived with his family since militias torched his village in Darfur in 2003.

Seated in his bed in Adre's hospital—the only one for miles—Abakar gingerly rolled up his right pants leg to display a softball-sized scar on his shin. It was another bullet wound from the Darfur attack.

That the janjaweed now are attacking Darfurians in their country of refuge creates "a nightmare scenario" for diplomats, said Baba Gana Kingibe, the top official in Darfur for the African Union, the intergovernmental body that's charged with peacekeeping in the region.

Conflict between Sudan and Chad threatens to undo what little progress has been made in seven rounds of peace talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels, Kingibe said.

Some 7,000 African Union troops in Darfur—ill equipped to police a region the size of Texas—have been unable to enforce a cease-fire. A U.N. mission is due to take over in the fall, although Sudan's Arab government has balked at the idea, calling it part of a Western plot against Arabs.

Meanwhile, Sudan continues to support the janjaweed, though it's denied that. Last month, Jan Pronk, the U.N. special envoy to the country, told the U.N. Security Council: "In South Darfur, militias continue to cleanse village after village. The government has not disarmed them."

Last week, Sudan refused to allow the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator, Jan Egeland, to visit Darfur—perhaps, Egeland said, because Sudanese officials didn't want him to see how badly the situation had deteriorated.

The campaign has forced 2 million people from their homes since 2003, including 220,000 who fled into Chad. While most settled in refugee camps far within the country, about 20,000 squatted along the border, hoping it would be easier to return home.

But the violence has spread. In interviews, victims of recent attacks in Chad said the horse- and camel-riding janjaweed were heavily armed, and occasionally accompanied by trucks equipped with automatic weapons.

The militias steal food and livestock and fire on villagers with impunity, victims said.

Chadian officials accuse Sudan of supporting the cross-border raids as well as the Chadian rebellion.

"The Khartoum government has emptied Darfur," said Col. Touka Ramadan, the commander of military forces in Adre, "so they have come here."

Sudan has denied supporting the rebels, but the two countries have fomented rebellions against each other before. Analysts say the Sudanese government is trying to exploit a particularly unstable period in Chad. The ailing president of Chad, Idriss Deby, who's running for a controversial third term in May elections, escaped a coup attempt by military defectors last month.

Much of the 850-mile-long border has been unprotected since December, when Chadian rebels launched a major attack on Adre. Deby, who seized power in 1990 by leading a coup from Darfur, moved troops into Adre from other border towns.

Now Adre resembles a military base, with hundreds of troops in mismatched camouflage roaming the sandy streets, while only a few miles away the janjaweed carry out attacks.

March 29, four men were taken to the Adre hospital with bullet wounds from a janjaweed attack that morning in Tougoultougouli, a village 10 miles away.

"They came in big numbers—about 50 of them," said Ousmane Abdullah Ouaddi, 32, a thin man with a wispy goatee who lay in a hospital bed with a broken left leg.

"They were well armed. They came to take our animals, then they left."

Ouaddi, who surrendered 45 head of sheep and 10 cattle in the raid, said he'd lost count of the number of recent janjaweed attacks in the area. The hospital, run by the relief agency Doctors Without Borders, has admitted nearly two dozen people whom the janjaweed shot in the past month.

Ouaddi said he was considering fleeing with his wife and eight children.

"With things like this," he said, his voice weary, "we cannot stay."

Nearly all relief agencies have pulled back from the border, for security reasons. Aid workers who've traveled the desert south of Adre say dozens of villages have been evacuated. A survey last month by aid groups determined that 55,000 to 65,000 Chadians have fled their homes.

More and more Sudanese are traveling long distances over scorching sands to reach U.N. refugee camps, which already house 206,000 people.

Gaga, the only camp that isn't too full to accept new arrivals, added 2,000 people in the first three weeks in March, according to the local office of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. That was up from 1,700 in January and 1,900 in February.

It was more than 100 degrees the day that Harna Azin Adam reached Gaga from the border. She'd traveled for three days with her 2-year-old daughter, 9-year-old son and their last material possessions: two donkeys.

They arrived relieved but afraid: A village near Adam's had just lost all its livestock in a janjaweed attack, and Adam had to leave her ill mother behind in the care of her two older children.

"There is no security at the border. There is nothing to eat," said Adam, 33, squinting as she held her baby under her shawl and out of the sun.

"I hope that if I can find a place here, I can send for the others in my family. But I am very worried for them."


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): SUDAN-CHAD

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060404 SUDAN CHAD

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