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South Sudan/DRC: UNHCR signs tripartite agreement

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This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 31 January 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR yesterday signed separate tripartite agreements with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan to set up the legal framework for the voluntary return of 13,300 Sudanese refugees in DRC, as well as for 6,800 Congolese refugees in Sudan. UNHCR is planning to begin refugee return operations under these agreements in March.

The agreements, signed in Kinshasa, come more than a year after the signature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended 21 years of civil war in south Sudan. The CPA was signed in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 9, 2005.

Most of the 13,300 Sudanese refugees remaining in the DRC fled southern Sudan between 1994 and 1996. The majority of them live in UNHCR-run refugee camps, where we and our partner Oxfam-Quebec provide humanitarian assistance. Some of the refugees in the DRC are already making preparations for repatriation to their homeland.

Most of the 6,800 Congolese refugees in Sudan are currently living in Juba, the new capital of south Sudan, as well as in Ezo and Yambio in Western Equatoria, and in Khartoum. They fled the DRC - then Zaire - between 1965 and 1968 to escape the volatile security situation in the post-independence period, as well as the coup that brought Mobutu Sese Seko to power. Their areas of origin in DRC include Oriental and Equateur provinces, especially the Kisangani area, Buta district and Doruma.

Although many of the Congolese were born in Sudan and are well integrated into Sudanese society, they express a strong desire to return to their homeland. Older Congolese refugees, some of whom have spent four decades in exile in Sudan, say they want to live out the remainder of their lives in their own country. The repatriation will take place by air, and will start with Congolese refugees originating from the Kisangani area.

Yesterday's tripartite agreements follow another that was concluded January 12 in Nairobi between Kenya, Sudan and UNHCR, clearing the way for thousands of Sudanese refugees to be repatriated from Kenya to their home country. A fourth tripartite agreement is scheduled to be signed tomorrow between the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and UNHCR. The first repatriation movement from CAR is scheduled later this week from Mboki camp in southeastern CAR to Tambura, in southwestern Sudan.

More than 500,000 Sudanese refugees are still in exile in neighbouring countries, while more than 4 million southern Sudanese are displaced within Sudan itself. Thousands of south Sudanese have spontaneously returned to their homeland following the signature of the CPA last year.