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Chad: helping the injured amid the chaos

05-02-2008 Interview

Violent clashes between rebels and government troops in N'Djamena have left hundreds injured, many dead and thousands fleeing the capital. Simon Ashmore, the ICRC's deputy head of operations for East Africa, says the ICRC is supporting the Red Cross of Chad as far as possible in tending to the injured and the dead, notably with one surgical team in place and another on the way.

  People pour across the Ngueli bridge over the Logone-Chari river into Cameroon fleeing the fighting in N'Djamena.    

  A woman shows a wound as she crosses the Ngueli bridge into Cameroon.    
  Simon Ashmore    
     How would you describe the current humanitarian situation in Chad?  

The situation in Chad is very confused at the moment. In N'Djamena, currently the main focus of our concern, we note that there is a large movement of population out of the capit al. In the capital, we know that there were many injured and dead following the clashes over the weekend. We know that there has been a lot of looting, so the question of whether there will be access to basic foodstuffs in the short-term is a big question.

 What has the ICRC and the Red Cross of Chad been able to do to assist the people affected by the violence?  

Firstly, I would really like to salute the extraordinary work done by the Red Cross of Chad, which was active throughout the fighting on Saturday and Sunday, evacuating the wounded to hospitals and medical centres. They were doing a fantastic job when everybody else was bogged down waiting for the clashes to end.

Since Monday, the ICRC and the Red Cross of Chad have been able to move in and around N'Djamena. The Red Cross is respected, it seems, by all parties to the conflict. We have a surgical team in place already, which was able to deploy to Hôpital de la Liberté, where they have begun operating on wounded that were evacuated there. We've also been able to provide material assistance to other hospital structures.

We're currently working with the Red Cross of Chad and Chadian authorities in order to collect the mortal remains of those killed, so as to gather and bury them in a dignified fashion, but also to avoid a public health problem at some point in the future.

 What further assistance is being planned?  

We are trying to get a second surgical team into N'Djamena. As I said before, there are certainly hundreds upon hundreds of wounded in the various hospital structures that need help and the hospital structures are evidently completely overstretched, so our priority at the moment is to get a second surgical team in to support the team a lready in place.

As well, we will provide further support to the Red Cross of Chad for their activities in evacuation, gathering and identification of mortal remains, and burial of the dead.

We are also in an ongoing dialogue with the authorities in terms of gaining access to those who may have been detained from the opposition side.

 What can you say about the ICRC's current dialogue with the parties to the conflict?  

ICRC has been able to maintain a dialogue with all the parties to the conflict. Our first impressions following the clashes are that civilians up to this point have not been deliberately targeted by either side. Having said that, there has been a lot of collateral damage – people injured, people killed, people losing their possessions.

We would urge all parties to the conflict to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and also very importantly to protect the Red Cross movement in its humanitarian activities as well as other humanitarian actors and hospital structures, should there be a further outbreak of conflict.