After prolonged sufferings in squalid camps, at least 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are estimated to have returned to their villages since the Ugandan government kicked off its resettlement scheme in the war-ravaged north last month.
This follows the return of relative peace to the region that has been rocked by rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacks for nearly 20 years, which left over 1.4 million internally displaced in northern Uganda.
George Etyang, the 5th Division Infantry Commander in Lira district, in charge of overseeing the resettlement, was quoted by Sunday Vision as saying, "What is left is for the government to provide the required resettlement packages promised by the president (Yoweri Museveni)."
"Unlike in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader, where decongestion is taking place, here in Lango, people are heading home for resettlement and their security is guaranteed," he said.
Uganda's military spokesman Felix Kulayigye said earlier the IDPs in Lango and Teso regions started going back to their villages on Tuesday, but the resettlement process will not extend to the Acholi sub-region as there are still a few rebel remnants there.
Instead, the army will carry out decongestion in Acholi districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader, which have been at the heart of the conflict.
A major challenge is to decongest the camps from 10,000 - 60,000 persons per camp to 1,000 - 3,000 to improve service delivery and enable them to get closer to their parishes and villages.
At Barr IDP camp, 10 km from Lira town, out of the original 48,000 IDPs, about 24,000 remained. The camp commander, Lawrence Alot, said, "Most people have gone back to their villages basically to farm. Others still return and sleep in the camps after tilling the land."
At Aloi, one of the biggest camps in Lira District, an estimated 20,000 out of 60,000 IDPs had returned home.
A camp leader, Haji Sali Oryem, said, "At least 20,000 people have left since the month began, but this camp would be empty if people were provided with seeds, farming tools, food and iron sheets. People have gone of their own will but others are still stuck for lack of shelter at home."
Alfred Ojang, another camp leader, said, "This camp had 20,000 people but today there are less than 1,000 people left here." At Bata IDP camp, all the 32,000 IDPs had left.
A returnee, 38-year-old Mildred Ayo, a mother of seven, said, "I am glad I am back at home after over 10 years. I came first to clear the way for my husband, who is still at Olit camp."
Uganda has unveiled a master plan last month to rehabilitate the IDPs in the war-ravaged north after nearly two decades of conflict, destruction and human degradation.
Recent statistics indicate Gulu district has the highest number of IDPs, estimated at 503,400. Kitgum district has 284,100 IDPs. Lira district has 256,660, while Pader district has 326,730 IDPs.
Characterized as the world's largest forgotten crisis by UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, the long running conflict in northern Uganda is one of extreme "brutality and callousness".
(Xinhua News Agency April 24, 2006)