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First of thousands of refugees return to Equateur

NAIROBI, 29 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriated on Thursday the first 109 of 57,000 refugees from the Republic of Congo (ROC) to their homes in Equateur Province, northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The UNHCR has assured us that they will support us throughout our reinsertion [into our communities]," one returnee told the UN-supported Radio Okapi.

The refugees have been living for more than five years in temporary settlements along the Obangui River in ROC, which borders Equateur.

Some 8,000 of them have already registered for the return trip, which "includes crossing dense rain forest, numerous waterways and extremely rough roads," Jennifer Pagonis, the UNHCR spokeswoman, said on Tuesday in Geneva.

By the end of 2006, UNHCR hopes that 24,000 of the refugees in ROC would have returned home.

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