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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
07 February 2007

DRC: Thousands displaced by fighting return home

KINSHASA, 7 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - Thousands of people displaced by fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern province of North Kivu have started returning home, humanitarian officials said.

Andrew Zadel, the communications officer at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma, the main town in the province, said those returning had sought refuge southwest of Rutshuru territory and in villages to the west of Rutshuru.

The villagers are returning as dissident general Laurent Nkunda's fighters are being reintegrated into the national army, following talks between his rebel movement and the government. Nkunda has led a rebellion in North Kivu since 2004, against what he perceives as the persecution of members of his ethnic community, who are originally from Rwanda.

Two of Nkunda's brigades, the 81st and 83rd, are being integrated into the national army, while three integrated battalions have been redeployed.

At least 1,700 people have returned to the villages of Luke and Murambi, 36km southwest of the territory of Masisi, the scene of fighting on 20 January.

"Perhaps the process of reintegration into the army has had a positive effect on the situation of the displaced because they now have enormous confidence to return to their villages," Zadel said.

Meanwhile, the security situation in North Kivu remains precarious due to fresh fighting on Monday between the newly reintegrated brigades and rebels of the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda, who have been in the region since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, according to humanitarian agents.

The fighting flared up again on Tuesday, according to the UN-supported Radio Okapi.

"The displaced have shown enormous confidence by returning to their homes, but we are waiting to see what will happen with the new skirmishes," Zadel said.

Most villagers had already fled several times after several battles in the area. After the fighting on 27 December 2006, at least 11,855 people fled Runyoni and Jombe villages in Bunagana, on the border with Uganda, when Nkunda's men attacked regular army positions. Another 21,450 left their villages in Rubare, Kalengera and Rutshuru centres after fighting broke out at the end of November 2006.



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