The U.N. refugee agency reports the first two out of 40 camps for internally displaced people are to be closed Tuesday in Uganda's northern Lango region as most of the IDPs there have gone home. The UNHCR says people are returning home because of the improved security situation and ongoing peace talks between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
Thousands of children have been abducted and hundreds of thousands of people terrorized during the more than 20 year civil war waged by the Lord's Resistance Army.
In 2005, at the peak of displacement, nearly two million people in northern Uganda were forced from their homes by the war between the LRA and the Ugandan government forces. They found protective shelter in one of the 242 camps that had been established.
UN Refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the internally displaced who remained in these camps for a very long time would occasionally go back to their villages to check on their property and then return to the camps for their safety.
"But, now they are moving back for good, which makes them happy and makes us happy as well because they have lived in absolutely horrific conditions in some cases," said Redmond. "Estimates are that some 92 percent of the 466,000 internally displaced people in the Lango region at the height of the displacement in 2005 have now gone home."
Redmond says the closure of the scheduled 40 camps in the Lango region should be completed by the middle of next year.
He says the situation is not the same in some other areas of displacement, including the Acholi region, also in northern Uganda. He says more than 63 percent of the more than one million internally displaced people there remain in the camps.
"But, we are hopeful that with the continuation of peace talks the continually improving security will see more of those internally displaced returning home as well," added Redmond. "It is just taking longer for people to feel comfortable and safe in making that decision to go back to their villages."
The UNHCR is the lead agency for camp management in Uganda. Redmond says closing the camps will be a long, costly process.
He says the government of Uganda wants the camps to totally disappear. This, he says, means tearing down empty huts, filling in pit latrines, leveling and replanting the land. He says a mine action team also will search for land mines around these camps.
He says it will cost about $200,000 to close the first 40 camps in Lango.