- United Nations refugees agency has began repatriation of displaced Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) nationals to their homes in town of Gobu in Ituri district.
Five boats chartered by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ferried first group of 712 people from a settlement for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Tchomia, across Lake Albert to Ituri district of DRC's Orientale province. A further 1,800 IDPs are expected to return by this route in coming weeks.
A 52 years old returnee expressed satisfaction upon arrival to her shelter saying there will be no more any plastics covering the house.
UNHCR was also scheduled to resume repatriation operations next week Monday to Ituru, with the hope to return almost 7,000 people from Beni and Eringhety to Komanda and Ituri capital, Bunia, starting with a first group of 220 people.
Some 3,000 displaced persons have returned home under this operation, which was suspended by UNHCR in December for security reasons amid clashes between rebel fighters and DRC armed forces.
Some 600,000 displaced Congolese remain in Ituri region, living in settlements or with host families. Many fled their homes during the DRC's wider civil war between 1996 and 2000, which left 50,000 civilians in Ituri dead, while thousands more left their homes when inter-ethnic clashes erupted in 2003 all over the district.
UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are now in a recovery and reintegration phase, helping to reconstruct homes, schools, health centre, and providing seeds and agricultural tools to farmers in Ituri.
Those retuning on Monday were each given a return package that included blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, plastic sheeting and construction tools. They also received food aid from UN World Food Programme (WFP) and agricultural assistance from UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
UNHCR fear that some returnees are likely to face land disputes, saying it has in place mechanisms for dispute resolution aimed at tackling land dispute issues.
Despite sporadic outbreaks of violence in Ituri region, significant progress has been made since 2004 in restoring lasting peace, disarming and demobilising rival military forces, and reintegrating fighters into society.
UNHCR says it now plans to wrap up assisted return programme by end of this year.
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