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As Refugees Return to Sudan, More Being Displaced


Officials of the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, in coordination with the Sudanese government, say they have returned 100,000 former refugees and internally displaced persons to southern Sudan since 2006. But in Sudan's western Darfur region, violence continues to displace tens of thousands each month. For VOA, Noel King has more from Khartoum.

An estimated four million southern Sudanese were displaced during Sudan's 21-year civil war between the northern Islamist regime and southern rebels.

The war ended with the signing of a peace accord in 2005, enabling southerners to return home.

Robert Turner, director of the Returns, Reintegration and Recovery unit of the United Nations Mission in Sudan, spoke to reporters in Khartoum Wednesday about the return of the Sudanese who were refugees in other countries and those Sudanese who were internally displaced, known as IDPs.

"We've just surpassed 100,000 organized IDP and refugee returns since January 2006," Turner said. "This, in our view, is a fairly impressive achievement particularly given that Sudan represents probably the most difficult operational environment in the world."

Turner warned that funds for the returns program have nearly been exhausted.

Most of southern Sudan's infrastructure, including roads and bridges, was destroyed during the war, complicating the returns process.

Refugees and IDPs are being returned in trucks, planes, trains and river barges from areas in northern Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

But despite the successes in southern part of the country, Sudan remains far from peaceful. The U.N. Mission warned on Wednesday that violence in Darfur continues to displace tens of thousands of people in the western region.

George Somerwill, chief of public information for the U.N. mission spoke at a news conference in Khartoum.

"The situation in Darfur continues to be characterized by forced movement of civilians, due to increased insecurity," Somerwill said. "Nearly 140,000 people have been identified as newly displaced since the beginning of the year, with at least 10,000 on the move during the month of May alone."

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan's north-south civil war in 2005, was used as a template for the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement.

But while the north-south deal has seen considerable success, the Darfur accord failed to attract the support of most rebel factions.

Fighting has continued between Darfuri rebels, Sudan's armed forces and government-backed militias known as janjaweed.

The conflict, in which an estimated 200,000 people have died, has raged for over four years.