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In Chad, put refugees first

An armed rebellion in Chad threatens hundreds of thousands of refugees.

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An attempted coup in Africa's Chad has put the UN, and particularly France, on alert. At stake is the care of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur and Chad, and a new refugee stream created by the fighting. In this tricky case, humanitarian considerations must be paramount.

The current trouble began Feb. 2 when rebels advanced into Chad's capital, N'Djamena, and made it to the palace of President Idriss Déby. Government forces pushed them back to the city's outskirts in fierce fighting, which set off a mass exodus of residents to neighboring Cameroon.

Mr. Déby is no Mr. Clean. He came to power through revolt, has held his position through unfair elections, and heads a corrupt government that's skimming his country's oil profits. But his ouster would pose a great danger to huge numbers of refugees who have already suffered terribly.

These refugees, about 420,000 of them, sit in camps in eastern Chad, which borders the Sudanese province of Darfur. They are among the 2.5 million displaced by the Darfur genocide and by violence in the border region. They depend completely on humanitarian aid, which is delivered via N'Djamena at the western end of Chad.

Were the rebels to take over or if instability reigned, this aid would be at risk. The rebels oppose the arrival of European Union forces, or EUFOR, which were to be deployed this week to protect Chad's eastern refugee camps. More worrisome, the rebels are presumed to be supported by Sudan, which also opposes the 3,700-strong EUFOR.


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