DRC-Rwanda deal could pave way for Congolese refugees to return, says UNHCR
GENEVA, July 31 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has welcomed an agreement signed yesterday between the governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, saying it could pave the way for some 390,000 Congolese refugees to return home.
Under the deal signed in Pretoria, South Africa, the DRC agreed to help disarm Hutu interahamwe and former Rwandan militias in the country. Rwanda, in turn, pledged to withdraw its troops from the DRC.
In a statement released yesterday, UNHCR hailed the agreement as a welcome step forward in the search for long-term solutions to the conflict in the DRC. The agency added that it hoped the agreement would be followed by further negotiations between the various parties to achieve long-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 four-year conflict between the DRC and Rwanda has killed up to 3 million people and uprooted more than 2 million from their homes. UNHCR estimates that there are some 390,000 Congolese refugees in the region, hosted mainly in Tanzania and Zambia. Most of them had fled areas reportedly occupied by Hutu interahamwe and former Rwandan militias. Another 2 million Congolese are believed to be displaced within the country.
"Some of the refugees, particularly those who arrived most recently in neighbouring countries, may now decide to return spontaneously," said the statement. "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 DRC is also host to more than 360,000 refugees from Angola, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Uganda, among others.
Extending its cautious optimism beyond the DRC into the war-torn region, UNHCR added, "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."