The United Nations has repatriated a group of Rwandan refugees from the Mbarara district of southwestern Uganda. The U.N. refugee agency says this is only the first of what is expected to be a much wider effort to return thousands of Rwandan refugees to the homes they fled nearly a decade ago.

About two million Rwandans fled their country after the 1994 genocide. Now, the U.N. refugee agency reports about 60,000 Rwandans remain exiled in several African countries.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Clark says 214 Rwandan refugees successfully returned from Uganda. She says she expects this will encourage many more of the 23,000 Rwandans remaining in Uganda to ask the agency for assistance in returning home.

"There has actually been over 1,000 people who have already signed up from this group of 23,000," said Ms. Clark. "They have actually already signed up and registered for repatriation assistance to Rwanda. So it is actually larger than this first movement and we are hoping as the movements get underway and people start returning, more people will come forward and sign up to go back."

Ms. Clark says the returnees will be transported to a transit facility, which has been set up close to the northeastern town of Byumba. She says they will receive items such as kitchen utensils, plastic sheeting for shelter, and soap to help them get started in their new homes.

She says the UNHCR will transport some of the returnees to their home areas. Others will be returned by commercial vehicles. She says the Rwandan government has assured the refugees that on their return, they either will get back their own land or will be given other plots which can support their families.

The UNHCR spokeswoman says her agency is mounting information campaigns in Zambia and Zimbabwe to tell the thousands of Rwandan refugees that it is safe to go home. She says the UNHCR will assist all those who wish to return.