About 20,000 Chadians have fled to neighboring Cameroon to escape fighting between government forces and rebels in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.
"Up to 20,000 people have crossed the river border (between Chad and Cameroon) since Saturday, and as of Tuesday morning, frightened people were still crossing in a continuous flow," Ron Redmond, spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva.
Redmond said a five-member UNHCR team arrived in the Cameroon border town of Kousseri Monday evening to evaluate the situation and provide help for Chadian refugees.
The UNHCR is also preparing to send two airlift flights this week to Cameroon from its regional aid stockpiles in Dubai, carrying a total of 90 tonnes of relief supplies, enough for some 14,000 refugees.
Meanwhile in eastern Chad, the UNHCR and its partners continue to look after hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people.
But continuing security concerns led to Monday's evacuation of 25 non-essential UNHCR staff from its main field operation base at Abeche, Redmond said.
They were among 47 non-essential UN staff and 99 NGO workers flown in two UN planes to Cameroon, he added.
The UNHCR and its partners are operating some 12 large refugee camps in eastern Chad with some 240,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled Sudan's Darfur region.
Heavy fighting broke out on Feb. 1 near N'Djamena between government security forces and armed rebels in an attempt to overthrow President Idriss Deby, arousing grave concerns around the world.
Chad, a French colony until 1960, has been convulsed by civil wars and invasions since its independence, and the recent discovery of rich oil deposits has only intensified the struggle for power in the largely desert country.
The most recent series of rebellions began in 2005 in the eastern part of the country and one Chadian rebel group launched a failed assault on N'Djamena in April 2006.