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GENEVA (Reuters) - Six aid groups have suspended operations in eastern Chad following the killing of one worker, the kidnapping of another and a spate of banditry, the United Nations said on Friday.
The move could hit thousands of people who either have fled the Darfur conflict in neighbouring Sudan or suffer at the hands of Chad rebels who have long operated in the area.
"To date, five NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) have temporarily suspended their activities in the east," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing.
"Serious acts of banditry in eastern Chad over the last two weeks jeopardise the continuity of humanitarian operations," she added, citing the death of a local worker for the agency Solidarite and the kidnapping of a French ICRC worker.
Byrs said around 37,000 people, often living in vulnerable conditions, would be affected by the suspension.
There have been more than 50 armed attacks on humanitarian workers in eastern Chad this year. Armed banditry has been a persistent security threat, with relief groups saying they are targeted because they have cars and other valuables.
Earlier on Friday, Chadian General Oki Dagache deplored the "risky behaviour" of foreign aid groups in Chad, urging them to notify authorities of their movements -- something they have resisted for fear it would compromise their operations.
The ICRC suspended its field operations in Chad earlier this week after armed men kidnapped Laurent Maurice, an agronomist for the ICRC who was monitoring harvests, and his five Chadian colleagues, in the village of Kawa near the Sudanese border.
An ICRC spokeswoman in Abeche, eastern Chad, denied reports it had received a ransom demand of 1 million euros (894,185 million pounds) for his release. The ICRC says it has been in touch with the kidnappers but has not been able to confirm their identity.
(Writing by Mark John and additional reporting by George Fominyen in Dakar; editing by Michael Roddy)

Reuters