The UN refugee agency reports a growing number of Rwandan civilians are emerging from remote areas of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo seeking to repatriate.  

In anticipation of many returns, the UN refugee agency says it is opening a new transit center in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Province.  It says it is increasing the number of trucks available to transport the refugees to their homes in Rwanda.  

Fighting erupted in late August between the Congolese national army and the mainly Tutsi militia in North Kivu province.  UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond says the agency thinks this is spurring people's desire to return.

"We believe they are going back because of this ongoing joint military offensive between the Rwandan and the Congolese military against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda militia," he said.  "And, that operation is continuing."  

Around one-quarter of a million civilians have been displaced by this fighting.  This comes on top of some 800,000 people already uprooted by violence in recent years.

Redmond says the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, is urging ethnic Hutu combatants to hand in their weapons and repatriate.

"If those fighters lay down their arms and want to repatriate, they present themselves to the UN Peacekeeping mission, to MONUC, and MONUC is responsible for their disarming them, for demobilization, for repatriation and also their re-insertion, re-integration in Rwanda," he said. 

He says most of the people UNHCR is dealing with are women, children and the elderly.

Congolese and Rwandan armies joined forces to topple the Tutsi militia led by renegade leader Laurent Nkunda, who has since been arrested.

UNHCR Spokesman Redmond says some of these people were told by their leaders that it was time for them to return home.  He says they generally are in good health.  But, many are tired after walking long distances to Bukavu.

So far this year, UNHCR staff in South and North Kivu provinces have helped more than 1,400 Rwandan civilians to return home.  Redmond says the agency expects to repatriate thousands more.