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Sudan's Dinka Begin River Journey Home

The International Organization for Migration says a first group of 400 Dinka, internally displaced in southern Sudan, are on the final leg of their journey home.

The 400 Dinka returning to Bor, in Jonglei province, are the first of a larger group, who decided to return to their homes after the Sudanese government and southern rebels signed a peace deal ending 21 years of civil war.

The Dinka began the long trek home from Western Equatoria, in southwestern Sudan, at the end of last year. Most of them have been making the journey by foot, accompanied by one half million cattle.

A spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, Jemini Pandya, says her agency has trucked more than 4,000 vulnerable people to a way station in an area west of Juba. She says the group, which consists of elderly, disabled, expectant mothers and women with young children, has been at the way station for several weeks.

She says a state-owned ferry will transport the people up the White Nile to their homes in Bor.

"It is a much safer option, because traveling on foot along the east bank of the White Nile is dangerous, because it is heavily mined," she said. "The ferry, however, has had to have major renovation work, in order to provide proper accommodation and water and sanitation facilities on board. And, everyone will also be given a life jacket. However, because we have been unable to start the engine of the ferry, the ferry is going to have to be pushed up the stream by a tug boat."

Pandya says it will take a day to reach Bor and another two or three days for the boat to come back. She says the operation to return all of the 4,200 people at the Juba way station will take about two months.

She says 8,000 other Dinka traveling with their cattle already have crossed the White Nile at Juba, and several cattle camps reportedly have been established on the outskirts of Bor. She describes their journey as an exceptionally difficult one.

"They are traveling at a time when the communities through which they are passing - it is harvest time, and obviously there are tensions, possible tensions between farmers and the traveling Dinka, with their cattle, which can cause damage to crops," she said. "And, cattle raids, of course, have also been an issue. Each one of these cattle is worth up to $200. So, their cattle is worth an awful lot of money. So, they themselves are vulnerable."

Upon their return to Bor, Pandya says, the Dinka will receive food and other essential supplies. She says they will be helped to restart their lives and become reintegrated in the communities they left 14 years ago.