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UNHCR welcomes steps towards south Sudan peace

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UNHCR welcomes steps towards south Sudan peace

27 May 2004

May 27, 2004

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency today welcomed the signing of accords considered key to ending Sudan's 21-year civil war with southern rebels and the return of nearly four million uprooted Sudanese to their homes.

"This is a very encouraging and positive step," David Lambo, director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau, said of three key agreements signed late Wednesday night between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the Kenyan town of Naivasha on power-sharing and the administration of three disputed regions.

"While there is still work to be done towards a comprehensive peace agreement, the signing of these three protocols appears to bring closer the day when southern Sudan's 500,000 refugees and more than three million displaced persons can go home," Lambo said.

The three protocols resolved the last remaining issues needed to end Africa's longest-running conflict. The two parties estimate a final comprehensive peace agreement, including implementation arrangements, could be finalised within two or three months. This would be the signal for UNHCR to begin discussing a voluntary repatriation with refugees themselves and host countries where the 500,000 Sudanese refugees are now sheltering. The biggest numbers of south Sudanese refugees are in Uganda (223,000), Ethiopia (88,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (69,000) and Kenya (60,000),

UNHCR emergency teams deployed since December to lay the groundwork for returns have reopened offices in Juba and Rumbek. The agency plans to open more offices to support the repatriation that is expected once a peace deal is signed. UNHCR last operated in south Sudan in 1991.

Earlier this year, the refugee agency organised a conference on repatriation in Africa where it announced that as many as two million African refugees could return to their homes over the next five years. Sudan was one of the nine countries UNHCR said were expected to welcome back large numbers of refugees, a process requiring significant rehabilitation and development assistance.

The refugee agency plans to work with its UN partner agencies and non-governmental organizations to repatriate the refugees and ensure the sustainability of the reintegration process in their homes areas.

"The signing of the three protocols underlines the need for increased funding for UNHCR's activities for southern Sudan," said Lambo. "Of $8.8 million needed for our Sudan preparatory programme, only some $3 million has so far been received. We urge donors to step forward with the money that will help us capitalise on this framework peace accord."

The protocols signed in Naivasha do not affect the conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan, which the UN has called "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." Of more than one million Sudanese displaced by that conflict, tens of thousands have fled into neighbouring Chad, where UNHCR is moving them to camps and distributing food and household items. Already more than 77,000 refugees from Darfur have been relocated to seven newly opened camps located inland from the volatile border.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers warned the UN Security Council last week that the widespread violence and human rights abuse in Darfur could drive more refugees across the border into Chad, further exacerbating an already "appalling" humanitarian situation.

"If the situation does not improve, we will see further refugee flows into Chad," Lubbers said. "The international community may be quickly overwhelmed and there is the potential for destabilisation of the sub-region."