May 1, 2006

Armed horsemen kill 4 in Chad village

By Pascal Fletcher

N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Around 150 armed men on horseback
attacked a village in eastern Chad on Monday, killing at least
four people and wounding six, two days before a presidential
election, the U.N. refugee agency said.

A U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman said the
group that raided Dalola, not far from a camp housing Sudanese
refugees, stole 1,000 head of cattle.

It was not clear whether they were rebels who have
threatened to disrupt Wednesday's election, cross-border
raiders from Sudan, or bandits who roam the desolate border

"The preliminary information we have is four dead and six
wounded," UNHCR spokesman Matthew Conway told Reuters from the
eastern town of Abeche.

He cited accounts given by survivors of the attack, who
were treated by Italian doctors at the Goz Amer refugee camp a
few kilometers (miles) from Dalola.

"We are being told that they were Janjaweed," Conway added.

The term Janjaweed, an Arabic expression which loosely
means "devils on horseback," is often used to describe Sudanese
government-backed Arab militias who raid villages in Sudan's
Darfur region and also across the border in Chad.

The attack took place before an election in Chad on
Wednesday in which President Idriss Deby is seeking reelection
for a third five-year term. He faces four challengers who are
either political allies or pose no real electoral threat.

Several opposition parties are boycotting the polls as a
one-sided farce and rebel groups fighting to oust Deby have
vowed to disrupt the voting.


There was no immediate comment on the attack from Chad's
government, which has said its forces are in control of the
vast, arid country -- Africa's fifth largest and twice the size
of France -- following a surprise raid by anti-Deby rebels on
the capital N'Djamena more than two weeks ago.

Conway said Monday's attack on Dalola, close to the Goz
Amer camp sheltering more than 17,000 Sudanese who have fled
violence in Darfur, was very worrying for the UNHCR and other
humanitarian agencies who have been asking Chad's government to
provide greater security in the region.

More than 200,000 Sudanese refugees are sheltering in Chad
to escape the ethnic and political violence that has raged in
Darfur since 2003, when a revolt by non-Arab rebels seeking
greater autonomy from Khartoum triggered a bloody backlash by
Sudanese government-backed Arab militias.

Chances of a breakthrough in African Union-sponsored Darfur
peace talks in the Nigeria capital Abuja appeared to ebb on
Monday, despite a 48-hour extension to the deadline until
midnight Tuesday.

However, Conway said the raid on Dalola could also have
been carried out by common bandits who have a history of
looting settlements and stealing cattle in the huge swathes of
dry savannah and desert of western Sudan and eastern Chad.

Chad accuses neighbor Sudan of backing rebels bent of
toppling Deby and of allowing "Janjaweed" militia, which rights
groups say have been terrorizing non-Arab civilians in Darfur,
to raid freely across the border.

Sudan denies the accusations and has accused Deby of
supporting anti-Khartoum rebels in Darfur.

"The 'Janjaweed' seem to be taking advantage of huge
security vacuums on the Chad-Sudan border," Conway said.

The redeployment of Chad government forces to deal with the
threat from anti-Deby rebels may be leaving refugee camps
dangerously unprotected, he said.

The rebels briefly occupied the Goz Amer refugee camp
earlier this month. They killed two Chadian policemen and stole
communications equipment but did not harm the refugees.

Plans for the United Nations to take over and reinforce an
existing African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur have been
blocked by Sudan's resistance to the idea.