November 28, 2002

Repatriation accords with Zambia and Namibia

The first wave of 170,000 Angolan refugees are set to return home next year following a deal between the governments of Angola, Namibia and Zambia on Thursday, November 28.

Signing the accords were the Angolan Social Welfare Minister, Joao Baptista Kussumua, the Nambian Ambassador, Charles Namolo, the Permanent Secretary of Zambia's Home Ministry, Piter Momba, plus the UNHCR Representative to Angola, Kalu Kalumya. The operation is worth US 36 million dollars, being six million disbursed by the Angolan government to be used during the first phase. A source with the Social Welfare Ministry said 200.000 refugees are in Zambia, 24.000 in Namibia and 195.000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The tripartite agreements, brokered by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is the fourth attempt to repatriate close to half a million refugees who fled decades of civil war. "Previous attempts to bring people back home failed because of the ongoing war, but since the ceasefire in April, most people and leaders believe that peace is irreversible in the country. The UNHCR is optimistic about this attempt," UNHCR spokeswoman in Angola, Lucia Teoli, said.

However, organised repatriation will only start after the rainy season ends in May/June 2003. In January 2003, UNHCR said it would carry out a "repatriation test" from camps near Kimpese, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Zaïre province in Angola.

But already some 70,000 refugees have spontaneously returned home since February, UNHCR said. Over the same period, some 860,000 internally displaced Angolans were estimated to have gone back to their home areas.

To cope with the returns, UNHCR has strengthened its presence in the north of Angola, in Uige and Zaïre provinces, and established a permanent presence in Luena, Luau, Cazombo and Lumbala N'Guimbo in the eastern Moxico province. One of the key concerns has been the safety and protection of the returnees. Angola is one of the most mined countries in the world, and each year civilians are killed by unexploded ordinance. "Before May next year the UNHCR would have set up seven field offices in provinces across the country. These offices will coordinate the registration of returnees, the distribution of relief items and conduct mine awareness campaigns. It is important that the returnees feel safe and have at least access to basic facilities," Teoli said. A further 70,000 refugees are set to return by the end of 2004. UNHCR has appealed for US $34 million to implement the two-year programme.

In a separate development a week earlier, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, said at Capelongo, southern Huíla province, elections in the country could be held in 2004, should there be appropriate conditions then. He stated that "We will have to make an evaluation at the end of 2003 or eventually in the beginning of 2004 to see if we have ideal conditions to hold elections". To him, future elections should be held in an environment of political security and stability. (IRIN, Angolan Press Agency)

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