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Milestone Mark In Repatriation Of Angolan Refugees

UN Agency Marks New Milestone In Repatriation Of Angolan Refugees

The United Nations refugee agency has opened a new route home for nearly 6,500 Angolans in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), marking a new milestone in its voluntary repatriation programme that has already helped repatriate almost 200,000 Angolans who fled nearly three decades of civil war.

"Now that the war is over, and – most importantly – that elections are expected in 2006, repatriation is another symbol of the conclusion of the war and of a new era of peace," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deputy representative in Angola, Annette Nyekan, said.

The first convoy carrying 211 returning refugees arrived in Angola yesterday along the newly de-mined road connecting Kimvula in the DRC's Bas Congo province to Sakandica in Angola's Uige province.

The new corridor is a typical example of the difficulties that have confronted refugees and UNHCR during the repatriation to Angola, which was devastated by 27 years of civil war until a peace agreement was signed between the Government and rebels in 2002.

More than 333,000 refugees have returned to Angola since then, nearly 200,000 of them with assistance from UNHCR.

Everywhere, bridges have had to be rebuilt and roads cleared of mines. After each rainy season, routes have to be checked again because the mines shift in the muddy soil.

The three-year repatriation programme to Angola has involved returns from all of the neighbouring countries, and even beyond. But the largest numbers have come from the DRC and Zambia.

UNHCR said it will focus in 2006 on supporting the re-integration of the returnees into their home areas, which are concentrated in the most isolated and heavily damaged parts of Angola.

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