The United Nations refugee agency says 251,000 former refugees have returned to southern Sudan since a peace deal ended Sudan's civil war three years ago.

In a statement issued Friday, the U.N. agency said most of the refugees have come back from Uganda, with thousands more returning from Ethiopia and Kenya.

The agency said it is now helping to repatriate about 4,500 refugees each week.  It says families are anxious to return for Sudan's national census in April, and to beat the start of the rainy season in May.

The refugees fled Sudan because of a 21-year-long conflict between the northern Islamic government and rebels in the Christian and animist south.

The U.N. refugee agency says that since the January 2005 peace agreement ended the fighting, its staff has helped repatriate 100,000 refugees.  The other 151,000 have returned on their own.

The U.N. says about 260,000 Sudanese refugees remain outside the country.