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U.N. warns of Chad refugee crisis

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(CNN) -- The head of the U.N. refugee agency has said hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees from Darfur and displaced Chadians in eastern Chad face stark perils from fighting in eastern Chad.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres issued the warning on Saturday after hearing reports of fighting from that volatile region of Africa -- where Arab North Africa and black Africa intersect.

UNHCR staff is saying there was gunfire around the town of Abeche, the spot where the agency manages eastern Chad refugee camps near Sudan, and reports of military activity and fighting elsewhere involving Chadian rebels.

"Given the remoteness and lack of infrastructure in eastern Chad, getting help to these hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people is difficult in the best of times," Guterres said.

"The humanitarian lifeline there is very, very fragile and we fear that continuing violence in the region could easily sever it, jeopardizing the lives of thousands of Darfurians and Chadians who have already suffered too much. I appeal to all sides to bear in mind the enormous humanitarian needs we're already facing in Chad."

The UNHCR camps in eastern Chad have 218,000 refugees from Darfur, the strife-ridden region of western Sudan. About 90,000 Chadians have been displaced in the region. Also, there are also 46,000 refugees in southern Chad from the Central African Republic.

Witnesses said Chadians have been the victims of attacks. More than 220 were killed "by armed Arab-led raiders on horses and camels using tactics identical to those of the notorious janjaweed in neighboring Darfur," UNHCR said.

The violence has prompted agencies to halt humanitarian aid distribution.

The killing of blacks in Darfur by Arab janjaweed militias who back Sudan's government is considered a genocide by the United States and other entities.

The United Nations says "at least 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur as a result of the conflict between government forces, allied militias and rebels seeking greater autonomy, and more than 2 million others have been displaced."

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A Sudanese refugee cooks for her children in a Chad refugee camp.

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