Fighting among gold miners in remote northern Chad has left an unknown number of dead and wounded, the country’s communications minister said Wednesday, amid unconfirmed reports the death toll was around 200.
The clashes at Kouri Bougoudi on Monday set Arabs from over the border in Libya against members of the Tama community, who hail from eastern Chad, minister Abderaman Koulamallah said in a statement.
The result was “the loss of human lives and several wounded. At least one or two dead”, the minister later told AFP.
But the head of the opposition “Transformers” party, Succes Masra, posted on Facebook a toll of “at least 200 dead”.
The main rebel movement FACT as well as the president of the CNDH national human rights committee, Mahamat Nour Ibedou, told AFP the number of deaths was “at least 200”, without providing details.
The Kouri Bougoudi border area, more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) northeast of the capital N’Djamena, lies in the Tibesti mountainous desert region, beyond the reach of telephone networks.
It is littered with mines often operated illegally by large numbers of gold diggers from Libya, Niger and Sudan.
The communications minister dismissed the 200 death toll as “fantasy figures”.
He added however that defence minister General Daoud Yaya Brahim had set off from the capital leading a sizeable armed force to restore security at Kouri Bougoudi and verify the death toll.
The CNDH’s Ibedou told AFP: “It all started with a scrap between two people from different communities and degenerated.
“The government sent a force to break it up which opened fire on the people.
“According to our information there are at least 200 dead,” Ibedou said.
Koulamallah insisted the security and defence forces were “not involved in any way in these conflicts limited only to groups of gold miners.
“The army is anyway not present in this region which is inaccessible even by car.
“It’s a hostile zone, almost lawless, it’s the Far West. They all go there because there’s gold, so there’s conflict,” the minister told AFP.
“The army is absolutely not mixed up in these clashes.”