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UN Begins Repatriating Angolan Refugees - 2003-06-20

The United Nations has started to repatriate Angolan refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers made the announcement at the close of an international conference on refugees in Africa.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said Friday in Tokyo that U.N. convoys are now on the move, returning refugees to Angola from the Democratic Republic of Congo. These people fled during Angola's 30-year civil war, which ended in 2002 with the death of Unita rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

Participants at the International Symposium on Refugees in Africa, such as Ilunga Lgandu, welcomed the news.

"Angola is the last residual war of the Cold War era," he said. "For that war to have come to an end, and for those civilian populations that have been suffering so much over the last 30 years, for them today to feel safe and comfortable to return home is a major breakthrough."

U.N. officials say the repatriation of Angolan refugees in Zambia, which was slated to begin last week, was postponed after a landmine was discovered on one of the planned routes. But Mr. Lubbers said Friday the repatriation of Angolans would soon begin there and in neighboring countries.

While the news on Angola was uplifting, Mr. Lubbers made it clear that Africa has upwards of 15 million displaced people who need help. He called on the international community to offer strong support, so that refugees can become self-reliant and play a positive role in their host nations.

"There will be no development in Africa, if one does not make use of the productive capacities of uprooted people and … displaced persons," he said. "There will be failure without that. First, because these people are strong people, and they have enormous potential …"

Mr. Lubbers also said the refugee situation in Africa is a mixed picture, with the progress in repatriation to Eritrea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Angola standing in contrast to crises in Somalia, Sudan and Burundi.