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Published Feb. 11, 2008

Thousands of refugees fleeing attacks by Arab militias and Sudanese army bombs in the ravaged western region of Darfur have flooded into neighboring Chad, the United Nations said Sunday, and many more may be on their way.

The attacks throw a region sundered by conflict into still deeper chaos as rebels, government forces and ethnic militias jockey to control a stretch of semidesert that straddles the countries. A week ago, Chadian rebels based in Sudan tried to topple Chad's government, making it to the presidential palace gates in N'Djamena before being beaten back.

Making matters worse, the rebel group that controlled the part of Darfur under attack, the Justice and Equality Movement, warned the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force not to enter the area. The rebels said it was an active war zone and any armed group, including peacekeepers, would be deemed hostile.

"There is no cease-fire; the war is going on," Suleiman Sandal Haggar, a senior commander with the rebel group, said via satellite phone. "In this situation, it is very difficult to talk about peacekeeping when there is no peace to keep."

About 6,000 Sudanese reached the border town of Birak in Chad, said Helen Caux, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, and a roughly equal number had gathered in a nearby village. The first wave consisted mainly of men. An unknown number of women and children followed behind, the refugees told the U.N.

"They are destitute and terrified," Caux said.