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Congo-DRC: Refugees from Kinshasa to be repatriated

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BRAZZAVILLE, 7 May 2007 (IRIN) - The Republic of Congo and neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have signed an agreement whereby civilians who fled clashes in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, in March will be repatriated voluntarily.

About 203 people from the DRC crossed the Congo River to Brazzaville when fighting erupted between the army and guards of opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. The refugees included 121 of Bemba's fighters, but the repatriation agreement signed on Friday between the DRC's humanitarian affairs minister, Jean-Claude Muyambo, and his Congolese counterpart Charles Zacharie Bowao will only cover the repatriation of unarmed civilians.

Soon after the signing, about 40 civilians crossed the river to return to Kinshasa. Most of the refugees have been living in a makeshift camp in Essio, 80km north of Brazzaville, capital of Congo.

"Regarding the soldiers, from Monday on, a commission constituted by the representatives of the Congolese and the DRC governments, representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] and of the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] will meet to draw up the modalities of the repatriation," said Serges Mulumba, the permanent secretary in the DRC's humanitarian affairs ministry.

The DRC had asked Congo not to allow those refugees who did not wish to return to move near the border as they awaited a decision on their status.

The Congolese government also agreed to hand over to authorities in Kinshasa all weapons and two boats seized from the refugees when they arrived in Brazzaville.

Congo, the DRC and Angola signed a non-aggression pact in 1999.

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