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UNHCR welcomes D.R.Congo-Rwanda agreement

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UNHCR welcomes D.R.Congo-Rwanda agreement

30 July 2002

30 July 2002

GENEVA - UNHCR today heralded the signing in Pretoria of an agreement between the governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda as a milestone that could pave the way to peace and the return of tens of thousands of refugees.

Although faced with difficulties, the implementation of the agreement represents a welcome step forward in the search for long-term solutions to the conflict in the DRC. The agreement provides for the disarmament by Congolese forces of Hutu interahamwe militias and former Rwandan soldiers in the Congo, followed by the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from the DRC. This, in turn, could encourage the return of some 390,000 Congolese refugees scattered across a dozen countries in the region.

UNHCR has firm hopes that the agreement will be followed by further negotiations between various parties to achieve lasting peace.

"We certainly see this as an encouraging sign and hope that a peaceful future is now on the horizon for the Congo," said Ebrima Camara, Deputy Director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau. "We look forward to the day when all Congolese refugees can return home to participate in the reconstruction of their country."

The humanitarian cost of the conflict in the DRC has been enormous, with up to 3 million dead and an estimated 2 million people displaced internally. An estimated 16 million people are currently in need of food aid. Forty percent of children are illiterate, and two out of five die in infancy.

Some of the refugees, particularly those who arrived most recently in neighbouring countries, may now decide to return spontaneously. UNHCR, however, expects most Congolese refugees to adopt a more prudent attitude and wait for further developments in the peace process before opting for return. The majority of Congolese refugees, mainly in Tanzania and Zambia, originate from areas where Hutu interahamwe and former Rwandan army militias are said to be located.

Since the conflicts in the Great Lakes region are so closely inter-linked, UNHCR is also hoping that the implementation of the agreement could spur the Burundi peace process and lead to an improvement in the general security and political situation in Rwanda.