Since a December 2005 attack by Chadian rebels on Adré, a strategically important town in eastern Chad, armed groups have proliferated along the Chad-Sudan border, drawing on support from both countries and exploiting the freedom to move between them to step up their activities. Two of the primary protagonists from the Darfur conflict have been able to establish footholds in eastern Chad: Sudanese Janjaweed militias, some of which have committed atrocities on both sides of the border, and Sudanese rebel groups. What started as a parochial conflict in Darfur is turning increasingly cross-border and regional in scope, and civilians in Chad are caught in the middle.
With the Chad-Sudan border all but unguarded, Janjaweed militia based in Darfur are raiding deeper into Chad than ever before, exacerbating ethnic tensions and drawing ethnic groups into blood feuds that are taking on their own momentum. Sudanese Janjaweed militias have formed alliances with Chadian ethnic groups, and some joint attacks may have political or ethnic motives linked to domestic Chadian dynamics, including attempts by Chadian rebels to oust President Idriss Déby. Other attacks appear to be purely criminal; in one particularly brutal incident, 118 civilians were killed on April 12-13 in eastern Chad, simultaneous with an unsuccessful coup attempt by Chadian rebels.
While rural violence escalates, one faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M), a Darfur-based rebel group, has come to prey on refugee camps in eastern Chad in pursuit of its own narrow agenda. This Darfur rebel faction, linked to the Chadian government, recruited several thousand refugees from U.N.-supervised camps in Chad this March, holding them under brutal conditions. UNHCR estimates that 4,700 men and boys were recruited from refugee camps in eastern Chad into Sudanese rebel forces, risking the militarization of the refugee camps and exposing vulnerable populations to abuse. Some recruits were forced to become combatants against their will and brutally mistreated.
In the past six months, at least 50,000 Chadian civilians living in rural villages on or near the Sudan-Chad border have been forced to leave their homes due to persistent attacks by Janjaweed militiamen based in Darfur. As relations between Chad and Sudan deteriorate and insecurity along their common border mounts, civilians living in the dangerous and desperately poor borderlands of eastern Chad are in greater peril than ever.
The Chadian and Sudanese governments must take immediate action to end their support to armed groups who commit violations of customary international humanitarian law and, in particular, commit abuses against civilians. The developments in Chad demonstrate yet again the urgent need for a stronger, mobile international civilian protection force to be deployed both within Darfur and along the border with Chad. Finally, unless the Sudanese government is subjected to massive international pressure to meet the requirements of U.N. Security Council resolutions and its commitments under the May 5 Darfur Peace Agreement to disarm and demobilize the Janjaweed militias it has recruited, armed, and supported, civilians in eastern Chad will continue to suffer brutal attacks, and regional stability will remain at risk.