The first group of 255 people displaced by war in the Pool region of the Republic of Congo returned home on Sunday in a government led effort supported by UN agencies and NGOs.
A special train carrying the group arrived in Matoumbou, 45 km southwest of Brazzaville, for onward transport by truck to Kinkala, the largest town in the Department of Pool, then to their homes.
The Congolese Office of Humanitarian Affairs reported that close to 500 IDPs in Brazzaville were offered transport home but only Sunday's group accepted. On Sunday, Humanitarian Affairs Minister Emilienne Raoul distributed basic necessities to the group at Mankokossa, some 11 km from Kinkala.
"What we are doing will be in vain if the effort of disarmament, demobilisation and social reintegration of former fighters is not achieved," she told reporters.
The government, the UN Development Programme, the UN World Food Programme, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Congolese Red Cross are all involved in the voluntary return of all 500 displaced, living in six sites in Brazzaville. At the same time, another 1,500 vulnerable people resident in villages, to which the displaced are being returned, have been given food and non-food aid.
The Humanitarian Affairs adviser in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Philippe Chichereau, said there were 12,000 people living in sites in Brazzaville in mid-2002 and 6,700 at the end of 2003, of whom about 4,000 could be considered as vulnerable. People living with host families in areas surrounding Brazzaville were 28,735 in mid-2002.
"The exact number of people still living with host families is unknown at present but it should not be more than 20 percent of the initial group," Chichereau said.
"On the other hand, the number of displaced people within Pool could be around 50,000 living with friends, in makeshift shelters, and in the forest," he added.
Some 100,000 people fled fighting in 2002 between government troops and Ninja militia loyal to Frederic Bitsangou, alias Pasteur Ntumi. These people found refuge in the departments neighbouring Pool asuch as Plateau, Bouenza and Lekoumou and suburbs south of Brazzaville.