Several thousand people have fled deadly inter-ethnic clashes in northern Cameroon, seeking safety across the border in Chad, the Red Cross said Thursday.
Cameroonian authorities say conflict between fishermen of the Musgum community and ethnic Arab Choa herders around the town of Kousseri has claimed at least four lives.
Thousands of people fleeing the violence have sought refuge by crossing the Chari river into Chad, near the capital N’Djamena.
“There are at least 3,000 refugees, and the number is likely to grow,” Khala Ahmat Senoussi, president of the Red Cross in Chad, told AFP.
A Chadian police source said that “refugees are still arriving, some of them by boat”.
Jean-Lazare Ndongo Ndongo, prefect in Cameroon’s northern Logone-Chari region bordering Chad, told CRTV state television that “despite the security provisions that had been made, a mob managed to enter the town… with around 20 shops looted and four people losing their lives.”
“What we saw was terrible,” said Rahma Ahmat, a 55-year-old woman wearing a black veil who had fled to the Farcha forest outside N’Djamena.
“I saw a person being burned, I was terrified”.
The local official said the Musgum fishermen attacked areas mostly inhabited by Choa Arab herders “from all sides”.
A senior aid worker told AFP that the Musgum used bows and arrows in their attack, drawing violent ripostes from the Arabs.
“I took part in the brawl with the Musgum community,” 35-year-old Hajim said.
“I ran from the fighting because I was soon overwhelmed and I couldn’t track down my child”.
Many refugees have brought only mattresses to wait out the violence in the forest outside N’Djamena, an AFP correspondent saw.
The leader of Chad’s military junta Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno said the situation was “worrying” in a statement Wednesday, calling for “solidarity and hospitality” for the refugees but also asking the international community for aid.
During a week in August in Cameroon’s Far North, 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in clashes between Musgum fishermen and Choa Arab herders, the United Nations said.
The authorities said the clashes were sparked by disputes over access to water.
Deadly inter-community clashes are relatively rare in Cameroon, but frequent in Chad and Nigeria — in particular between sedentary farmers and nomadic herders.