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Fears for refugees as UN forces leave Chad and Central African Republic

The safety of thousands of refugees will be put at risk by a United Nations decision to pull forces out of Chad and the Central African Republic, human rights activists warn. The United Nations Security Council voted to withdraw its 4,375-strong force from the countries in stages by the end of 2010. Troops were sent out last year to protect hundreds of thousands of Chadians forced out of their homes and refugees from the Sudanese province of Darfur.

Earlier this year, the Chadian government demanded that the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic and Chad leaves the region. Chadian President Idriss Deby said that the force was no longer needed and called it a failure. But human rights campaign group Amnesty International has warned that the UN decision could put thousands of refugees in the region in danger. "The Security Council should stand up for the vulnerable women, men and young people living in the region," Amnesty said. The troops have shown they play a significant role in bolstering security and human rights protection in eastern Chad, Amnesty said. “This is not the time for the Chadian government to pull the plug.”

From 2003, fighting in neighbouring Sudan's Darfur region spilled across the border, along with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees. They have been joined by thousands of Chadians who are fleeing rebel fighting as well as violence between ethnic Arab and ethnic African Chadians. There are about 250,000 Darfuri refugees, 165,000 homeless Chadians and hundreds of thousands of other Chadians living in the region protected by troops, according to figures from Amnesty.

The decision to move out troops comes as relations between Chad and Sudan - previously a major source of conflict in the region, have calmed. Chad’s government has promised to protect vulnerable people in the region without UN assistance. But it hasn’t come up with a plan about how it will immediately replace the UN mission.  Meanwhile, Chadian authorities or UN officials have done little to involve refugees, or the local people in talks about the move, Amnesty says. "It is deeply disturbing that those whose rights are on the line have essentially been cut out of the debate,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International's Africa director. “The fact that the UN is being pushed out of the country long before the mission has succeeded sets a very worrying precedent for human rights protection and undermines the UN’s authority and credibility.”

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