CAR + 2 more

CAR-DRC-Congo: Help us go home, CAR refugees urge UNHCR

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NAIROBI, 19 March (IRIN) - Refugee leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo (ROC) have urged the Office of the UN High Commissioner to Refugees (UNHCR) to help about 5,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) in the two countries to go home, days after a coup in the CAR, according to the UN agency.
Francois Bozize, the former army chief of staff, seized power in a coup in the CAR on Saturday when President Ange-Felix Patasse was out of the country.

The UNHCR said on Tuesday that some 1,000 CAR refugees in Betou, northern ROC, had said they wanted to go home. They include former civil servants who want their jobs back.

"They have clearly decided that it's time to go back to [the CAR capital] Bangui to take part in the political dialogue announced by the new president," the agency quoted Emile Bellem, the head of the UNHCR office in Betou, as saying.

"They feel it is urgent to return right away so that they have a better chance to resume their positions in the public administration," Bellem said.

The UN agency said the refugees at Betou were the remnants of an initial group of thousands who had fled the CAR for the ROC following a failed coup attempt by former President André Kolingba in May 2001. More than 15,000 had also fled to the border town of Zongo in the DRC, across the Oubangui river from Bangui.

According to the UNHCR, many of the CAR refugees went home in the months following the May 2001 coup, but about 4,000 stayed in the two countries. In the DRC, UNHCR transferred nearly 3,000 to Mole, a refugee site 40 km from Zongo. In the ROC, UNHCR has been assisting about 1,000 refugees in the Betou area for the last two years.

"Another 1,000 arrived in mid-February this year following rebel fighting in southern CAR," the UNHCR said.

"Some of those currently seeking to return to CAR had been given heavy jail sentences, in absentia, for their alleged involvement in the coup attempt of 2001. Some had been condemned to death, others to life imprisonment. A majority of refugees in Betou and Zongo were associated with the former military," the UN agency said.

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