Huge challenges for returning Angolans (Angola)
LUANDA: Angolans returning home after years in exile from civil war would face huge challenges in a country gearing up for its first national elections in more than a decade, a UN official said.
Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said 410 000 people had returned home in the past four years, many returning to areas still devastated after a 27-year war that ended in 2002.
"These provinces still have a lot of landmines, the infrastructure has been massively destroyed by the war and is recovering at a very slow place.
"The scale of the problem and the difficulties involved are huge," he said this week.
The refugee repatriation programme, which officially ended on Wednesday, involved the organised repatriation of almost 140 000 Angolans.
The refugee situation could complicate voter registration for planned parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008 and 2009, respectively, the first nationwide polls since a 1992 presidential campaign was aborted and fighting resumed.
Officials are registering seven million voters, but logistical problems are already proving a hurdle.
Although Angola is in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom, largely thanks to rising oil production and high crude prices, most of its population of about 13 million live on less than $2 (R14.70) a day.
One in four children do not make it to their fifth birthday, and critics say the government has spent too little of its oil money on rebuilding its health and education sectors.
Guterres said Angola's government and the international community had to ensure the returning refugees were able to settle in at home.
"We know that (refugee) return has not been sustainable in other parts of the world. Even peace and democracy has not always been sustainable."
He said half of all war-torn countries that had reached peace lost it within five years, although he did not see that happening in Angola.
But about 190 000 Angolans are still living outside Angola - mainly in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo - and Guterres said many would probably decide to stay where they were.
"Many were children born in the past 20 years and they don't speak Portuguese, and they became fully integrated in their host countries," he said.
The Commission for Refugees would help any who wanted to come back in the future, he said, but added, "we don't force people back". ' Reuters
Von: 30.03.2007 www.themercury.co.za