By Godfrey Olukya
ARU, Democratic Republic of Congo
The process of repatriation of South Sudanese ex-rebels living at camps in DRC has kicked off, a UN radio in DRC said Thursday.
As many as 520 South Sudanese former rebels have been confined since September 2016 to the camps of MUNSCO, UN peacekeeping mission, in Munigi, North Kivu province.
“So far 8 ex-rebels have voluntarily been repatriated to South Sudan in an exercise that started on Sunday and it will continue until all are repatriated,” a security officer in North Kivu, Lt. Paul Kasamba told Anadolu.
Their repatriation has been supervised by a tripartite mission composed of representatives of MONUSCO, the Congolese government and the South Sudanese government.
The former rebels had fled their country with their leader Riek Machar in August last year.
They were overpowered by government forces and fled with civilians. The civilians were taken to refugee camps by the UNHCR while the combatants were taken to other UN camps.
“South Sudan is our country and we are returning, because our security is guaranteed,” the radio quoted one of the ex-rebels as saying.
On Tuesday, the rebels had taken 13 UN mission staff hostage, demanding to be relocated to other countries before releasing them later.
The South Sudan ambassador to DRC, Beatrice Mani said that those who want to return to their country can do so and those who do not want can seek asylum elsewhere.
“We are tired of war. It is now time for peace,” she said.
Congolese Deputy Minister of Defense Corneille Masuasua said the repatriation will be progressive. He added that according to international law they cannot force the fighters to go back to their country.
The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN in the DRC, David Gressly, welcomed the beginning of the repatriation operation.
“It's a first step for everybody to go home. This is a positive step towards peace in Southern Sudan. It is also important for the Congo, which needs to see peace on its border with South Sudan,” UN radio quoted David Gressly, deputy special representative of the UN secretary general in DRC.
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