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23 May - Chadian forces must ensure security in the troubled east of the country so that aid workers can continue to assist the region's vast population of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), the United Nations relief chief said today as he began an official visit to the African nation.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes traveled to the Ouaddaï region at the start of a four-day visit to Chad aimed at getting a first-hand look at the situation facing refugees, IDPs and host communities, who are plagued by both insecurity and drought.

Mr. Holmes toured the Bredjing refugee camp near the border with Sudan's Darfur region, held talks with the governor of the Ouaddaï region and met with aid workers based in the area, according to a press release issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad, known as MINURCAT, could soon withdraw its military component from Chad in response to a request from the Government that it assume full responsibility for protecting civilians in the east of its territory. Earlier this month the Security Council extended the mission's mandate by two weeks while it considers various options.

Mr. Holmes said today that aid workers may need to prepare for a situation where they operate in eastern Chad – which has been prone to both banditry and conflict between rebels and Government forces – without the protection of MINURCAT's international force.

“I trust that continued and improved security will be ensured by Government security forces in eastern Chad so that civilians will be protected and humanitarians can continue to help people in need,” he said.

An estimated 341,000 refugees currently live in Chad, with most based in the east or south, close to the borders with Sudan and the CAR. Another 1,100 Central Africans arrived last month seeking shelter. Chad's east and south is also home to 170,000 IDPs and 35,000 returnees.

At Bredjing camp, which houses about 33,000 refugees, Mr. Holmes – who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator – noted that while basic services are being provided, many residents are becoming demoralized from living in a camp for so long.

“Political solutions are urgently needed on the other side of the border to enable the refugees to return safely to Darfur. Meanwhile, we also need to do more to support host communities where there are camps.”

Accra / Ghana/ Africa/