Home | News    Tuesday 29 June 2004

UNHCR ready for role in massive Sudan repatriation plan

GENEVA, June 29 (AFP) — The UN refugee agency said it was ready to help with an ambitious programme to encourage millions of Sudanese people displaced by decades of civil war to return to their communities.

All that was now needed was for the Khartoum government and SPLA rebels, the two main protagonists in the conflict, to sign a peace agreement ending the war, UN deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane said here.

"Our plan of action is ready. It has been ready for a few months now. The problem is to decide on the D-day," he said.

More than 600,000 refugees from southern Sudan have been scattered into seven neighbouring countries and over three million others have been displaced within Sudan by the upheaval of the past 21 years of fighting.

Together with famine and disease, the conflict has killed at least 1.5 million people.

The UNHCR will provide help with housing, health and education for those returning to the country but will also help communities that remained, Morjane said.

He said the organisation would need a cash injection of 90 million dollars (74 million euros) over three years to finance the operation.

Some refugees have already begun to trickle back into the country from northern Uganda, spurred on by the lack of security there.

Morjane said that the flow of those returning to the country "will depend on the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army — the rebel movement)...if they will encourage their people to come back sooner or later."

Morjane underlined that the UNHCR’s task was not helped by the humanitarian crisis in the western region of Darfur, where about 120,000 civilians have been forced to cross into Chad to flee intense fighting between two other groups.

Sudan’s government and rebels began a penultimate round of peace talks in Kenya on Sunday to secure a permanent ceasefire.

Since July 2002, Khartoum and the SPLA have signed accords that provide for a six-year interim period of autonomy for the south, before the region holds a referendum on its political future.