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DRC-RWANDA: Refugees in DRC opting to go back home

KIGALI, 13 February 2009 (IRIN) - Rwandans who have lived in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since the early 1990s have started returning home following a joint military offensive against the rebels, officials said.

In a 12 February communiqué, the DRC and Rwandan armies said the returnees had been held hostage by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). They had, however, distanced themselves from the rebel group, which is accused of war crimes.

Some of the returnees, the Rwandan internal affairs ministry said, are believed to have been involved in the 1994 genocide and would be screened. Suspects would face trial in local Gacaca courts.

The returnees said some feared retribution.

Beatrice Bwemalo, who said she had lived in North Kivu province since 1995, said her husband had gone missing. "I do not know where he is being held," she said at Rubizi border post, where hundreds of returnees were being screened.

Bwemalo spent the first three years at a refugee camp where she met her husband, Jeremy Kankiriho, an FDLR combatant. Later, she moved to Walikale district, where she has since lived in a rebel base with Kankiriho. Bwemalo, her three children and around 10 fighters were “rescued” by the joint forces. Her husband was captured.

Rwanda’s military spokesman, Jill Rutaremara, declined to comment on the fate of captured combatants in ongoing operations.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), hundreds of refugees have emerged from remote areas of eastern DRC seeking to be repatriated to Rwanda since the offensive started on 20 January.

"Rwandan civilians, mainly women and children, say that they are returning home willingly. Some say they were told by their leaders it is time to return home. They are generally in good health, although visibly tired after long walks and truck journeys from UNHCR assembly points to Bukavu," Ron Redmond, UNHCR spokesman told reporters on 6 February.

Between 4 January and 3 February, the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) also repatriated 335 ex-FDLR combatants and their dependents to Rwanda and handed over 120 Rwandan civilians to UNHCR.

Rwandan and Congolese military sources said more than 2,600 combatants and their dependents had surrendered and returned home. The returnees are accommodated at UNHCR temporary transit centres on Rwanda’s border with DRC before being transferred to various camps.

Here they await a final resettlement package before rejoining their former communities. The combatants are sent to rehabilitation centres in the Northern Province from where they are also resettled.

An estimated 50,000 Rwandan refugees, mainly from urban centres, have remained in exile in DRC since 1994, according to UNHCR.

Hundreds of Rwandan troops entered eastern DRC to back the DRC government operation against the FDLR.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


Copyright © IRIN 2009
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