UNHCR hails "positive step" in south Sudan peace process
GENEVA, May 27 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has hailed the newly-signed accords in south Sudan as "a very encouraging and positive step" for millions of uprooted Sudanese, and urged donors to fund repatriation and reconstruction activities in the war-torn country.
UNHCR was responding to Wednesday night's signing of three key protocols between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement on power-sharing and the administration of three disputed regions. Signed in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, these agreements resolved the last remaining issues needed to end Sudan's 21-year civil war.
According to the two parties, a final comprehensive peace agreement, including implementation arrangements, could be signed within two or three months. This could pave the way home for nearly 4 million Sudanese displaced by Africa's longest-running conflict.
"This is a very encouraging and positive step," said David Lambo, director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau. "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 3 million displaced persons can go home."
Of the 500,000 south Sudanese refugees in the region, some 223,000 are in Uganda, 88,000 in Ethiopia, 69,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 60,000 in Kenya.
UNHCR last operated in south Sudan in 1991. Since December, the agency has deployed emergency teams to lay the groundwork for returns, reopening offices in Juba and Rumbek. It plans to open more offices to support the repatriation that is expected once a peace deal is signed.
"The signing of the three protocols underlines the need for increased funding for UNHCR's activities for south 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."
Sudan is one of nine African countries identified by UNHCR that could welcome back a total of 2 million refugees over the next five years. The agency plans to work with its UN partner agencies and non-governmental organisations to repatriate the refugees and ensure the sustainability of the reintegration process in their homes areas. It has repeatedly stressed that the process requires significant rehabilitation and development assistance.
The Sudanese protocols signed on Wednesday do not affect the conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region, which the UN has called "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world". Of the more than 1 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. Since mid-January, more than 77,000 refugees from Darfur have been relocated to seven camps further inland in eastern Chad.
Last week, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers warned the UN Security Council 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."