Togo president urges refugees to come home

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 17 Aug 2005
By Mathieu Bonkoungou

OUAGADOUGOU, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe on Wednesday urged thousands of refugees displaced by violence triggered by his disputed election to return home, saying they had nothing to fear in their homeland.

Some 40,000 Togolese have fled into neighbouring Benin and Ghana since the unrest after the April polls, with many still fearing for their safety if they return, according to the U.N refugee agency UNHCR.

"All those that were arrested after the election have been released and we have asked all refugees to come back so that we can talk together," Gnassingbe told reporters during a trip to Burkina Faso.

Togo spun into chaos after the army named Gnassingbe as president following the death in February of his father, the country's authoritarian leader of almost four decades.

Gnassingbe eventually quit under fierce international pressure and agreed to elections on April 24.

Gnassingbe's victory in April 24 elections sparked violent protests by opposition supporters who said the vote was rigged, and heavy-handed repression by security forces. Western diplomats say 100-150 people died in the violence, but Togo's Human Rights League has put the death toll at around 800.

UNHCR said no new arrivals had been registered in Ghana since the end of May, while in Benin about 200 people were now being registered a week, compared with several thousand after the elections in April.

Gnassingbe denied any more people were leaving Togo, saying his government was in talks with UNHCR, Benin and Ghana to ensure the refugees are repatriated.

"It's true the security situation in Togo is getting better but it's up to the refugees to make up their minds," UNHCR envoy Rafik Saidi told Reuters in Benin. "Repatriation is voluntary, UNHCR cannot force anyone to return."

He said a notice had been put up in one of the refugee camps last week in Benin, asking those wanting to return to Lome to sign their names. A week later, it was still empty, he said.

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