Agreement reached to repatriate 10,000 Congolese refugees

Some 10,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who have been living in the Central African Republic (CAR) are due to be repatriated following the signing of an agreement between the two countries and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The refugee agency reported on Tuesday that the agreement, which was signed on 26 August in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, provides a legal framework for the voluntary repatriation of the refugees. They fled the DRC's northwestern province of Equateur during fighting between 1998 and 2002.

Some of the refugees have been living in the CAR capital, Bangui; others are in a settlement at Molangue, 80 km to the southwest of the city. A UNHCR spokesperson, Rupert Colville, said the refugees had been urging the agency to assist them to return home.

UNHCR teams conducted several assessment missions to evaluate the conditions for return in Equateur Province, and mapped out two routes that convoys will take the repatriated refugees. One route will go from Bangui to the border town of Zongo. The other route will take refugees 200 km into the DRC, to the towns of Batanga, Libenga and Gemena.

The agency said the convoys are expected to begin before the end of 2004.