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First batch of ex-Mobutu soldiers return home

KINSHASA, 2 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - After a five-year exile, some 300 soldiers of the former Zairian army who had fled to the Republic of Congo (ROC) arrived on Tuesday in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba welcomed the soldiers after they arrived by ferry at the Beach Ngobila Port in Kinshasa.

Their families accompanied the men, bringing the total number of returnees to 557. The former soldiers left the country - which was known as Zaire - in 1997 after the late Laurent-Desire Kabila toppled President Mobutu Sese Seko. Kabila renamed the country Democratic Republic of Congo.

Onusumba said that in the coming days more groups were expected to return home from Brazzaville, the ROC capital.

"We commend the voluntary repatriation, which is part of the policy of the army's integration and is in accordance with the agreement signed by the belligerents in order to end the war and share the power," Onusumba said.

DRC officials went to Brazzaville last week to organise the repatriation in collaboration with ROC representatives and the International Organization for Migration.

The DRC officials said at least 900 soldiers had registered to repatriate voluntarily.

"The ones who want to join the army would have to take part in the military reintegration process, while those who want to join civilian life would have to take part in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process," Onusumba said.

Capt Ambroise Kusa, a representative of repatriated soldiers, said: "I am proud to come back to my country after having spent several tough years in exile. Since we were soldiers, UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] did not take care of us.

"Congo-Brazzaville is in a post-period conflict and has lots of problems to solve, so it cannot devote all its efforts in the refugee problem."

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