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DR Congo: new developments could pave way for uprooted to return home - UN

13 February 2009 – Recent developments in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – including the arrest of a rebel leader and a large-scale military operation against another militia – have sparked a “new dynamic” that could lead to the start of large numbers of displaced people returning home, the top United Nations relief official said today.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who returned from a visit to the country this week, cited as reasons for optimism the apprehension of Laurent Nkunda, who heads the mainly Tutsi group known as the National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP) and the joint Rwandan-Congolese operation against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR).

The removal of this group, which has been in eastern DRC since 1994, “should allow other illegal armed groups to be tackled and therefore displaced people to begin to go home in significant numbers,” he told reporters in New York.

Six months of clashes between the CNDP and the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) displaced some 250,000 people, on top of the 800,000 already uprooted in North Kivu province.

While visiting Kibaki camp, near the provincial capital Goma, Mr. Holmes was told in conversations with internally displaced persons (IDPs) that they hope to return to their homes as soon as it is safe to do so.

The presence of CNDP rebels and the operation against the FDLR preclude them from going back, but “they do see these things essentially in a positive light,” the official noted.

Further, the voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees is picking up, he said, with several hundred crossing back to their country on a weekly basis where they are looked after by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that while in the DRC, he also visited Haut Uélé in Orientale province, the scene of attacks by the notorious Ugandan rebels known as the Lord''s Resistance Army (LRA).

DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan have joined forces in an offensive against the group.

“One of the unfortunate results or consequences so far of that operation has been a series of extremely brutal and deadly attacks by the LRA against the villages of the area,” the Under-Secretary-General said, adding that some 900 people have died in the violence since late last December.

While in the region, he said he reminded the parties of the need to protect civilians as much as possible.

Mr. Holmes said that roughly 150,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the LRA attacks, and “we need to try to find ways to help them as quickly as possible,” given the uprooted live in a remote area and are relying on host families who themselves have limited resources.

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