- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

BREDJING, Chad — Haroun Abdullah, 14, was in the middle of an Arabic lesson when the rebels came. “I could not run; they caught me inside the school,” he said quietly, eyes downcast. “They had knives and sticks. Fifteen students were taken from my class.”

The children were just a few of the thousands of Sudanese abducted from refugee camps in Chad and forced to undergo military training and indoctrination. Although their number is unknown, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees puts it at about 4,700. Most were taken early this year from the camps at Treguine and Bredjing, when unidentified men spent three days going from tent to tent looking for potential fighters. Women who tried to cling to their men were beaten back.

Hawa Moussa’s husband is among the hundreds whose fate is unknown. After Arabic militias killed her parents and sisters, Mrs. Moussa, her husband and six children fled across the desert by donkey to join more than 200,000 refugees seeking sanctuary in Chad.

Last month, a group of men came to their house to persuade her husband to fight. When he refused, they tied him up and carried him off. “Until now, he has not come back,” said Mrs. Moussa, their youngest child wailing on her back. “When I went to the police to complain, they refused to listen. When I insisted, they chased me away. The police said it is not their responsibility.”

Mrs. Moussa does not know who is holding her husband. Four large rebel groups, two armies and an unknown number of militias are operating along the border between Chad and Sudan.

Among the dusty tents and straw shacks of the refugee camps in Chad, the people do not even know who is attacking them.

“We do find it very suspicious that thousands of refugees could be forcibly marched off in the span of one weekend and local authorities would be unaware of what was happening,” said Matthew Conway, a spokesman for the UNHCR. “To what degree there was complicity is not yet clear.” Some refugees are so frightened of being seized again that they spend several nights in the bush after escaping.

In Bredjing, every escapee who staggers home from the desert is eagerly quizzed about the missing. After receiving no food for four days, Adam Sabun, 26, decided to try to escape while he still had strength to walk, but couldn’t find his 14-year-old brother to take with him. His neighbor returned yesterday but had no news. “He is just small; he cannot fight,” Mr. Sabun said. “All he can do is play football.”

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