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Chief UN refugee official to Africa's Great Lakes

Chief UN refugee official kicks off 4-nation visit to Africa's Great Lakes region

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Rudd Lubbers, arrived today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), kicking off a four-nation visit to review UN operations and various peace initiatives that could pave the way for the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees throughout the Great Lakes region.

Arriving in the capital, Kinshasa, for a two-day visit to the DRC, Mr. Lubbers held separate meetings with officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Human Rights. He is also expected to meet with President Joseph Kabila tomorrow morning.

During his meetings, Mr. Lubbers was expected to appeal for improved access to refugees by humanitarian workers, and better human rights as a prerequisite for refugee return. Due to the recurring conflict in north Kivu, the UN's refugee agency has had intermittent contact with more than 40,000 Sudanese refugees who are hosted in the Aru area close to the border between the DRC and Sudan. Improved access is also needed to enable the agency's staff to search for Rwandan refugees who remain scattered in large forest areas of eastern DRC.

At a refuelling stop in the eastern town of Goma, Mr. Lubbers met with the governor of volatile north Kivu, Eugene Serufuli, who expressed concerns about continuing insecurity in the province. He also stressed that despite the sporadic fighting, Rwandan refugees in his region were continuing to return home - merging from the forest areas to be picked up at designated meting points.

In a brief press encounter, Mr. Lubbers told reporters that the UN agency was planning an integrated return operation for the voluntary repatriation of more than 300,000 Congolese refugees mainly in Tanzania, Zambia and the Republic of Congo. He credited the agency's achievements so far to positive political developments in the DRC.

"Our planning today is a direct consequence of the progress achieved on the political front in Congo," Mr. Lubbers said, outlining UNHCR's immediate plans for returns, which, in the coming weeks would include, assisting the return of more than 1,300 Congolese refugees who are anxious to go home from Molangue camp in the Central African Republic. He added that a number of Congolese refugees had also begun to return home on their own from neighbouring Zambia to the Katanga region in southern DRC.

Mr. Lubbers is expected to head to the Angolan capital, Luanda, tomorrow afternoon - the second leg of his tour, which also includes Tanzania and Burundi.

© Scoop Media

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