BUNIA: A first group of around 600 people who fled deadly violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in early February returned to their homes in the northeast on Tuesday, authorities said.
They returned voluntarily, said Laurent Chelo, secretary general of the social affairs ministry. “No one was forced to return, there is an enthusiasm to go back,” he said.
The internally displaced people had been sheltering at a camp set up at the main hospital of Bunia, the capital of the northeastern province of Ituri.
Congolese authorities transported the group in trucks to the village of Katoto, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) away.
The troubled province is caught in a cycle of violence between the Hema and Lendu communities. They are cattle herders and farmers who have long fought over land – a conflict that has recently intensified.
At least 120 people have been killed in the region since February, according to an AFP tally, and humanitarian groups say violence has forced around 300,000 more from their homes.
Some of those who escaped to Bunia have been living with host families, while around 2,000 had been living in tents at the hospital camp.
Katoto was at the centre of the killings.
Some of the escapees said they do not believe it is safe enough to go home.
“The attackers have not been disarmed and all of a sudden we are asked to return,” said Helen, a mother of eight children from Katsi, about 50 kilometres from Bunia.
Those willing to return were given kits containing plastic sheeting, mattresses, cooking utensils, food and nets for fishermen, Chelo said.
The government aims to move more than 950 households, or some 5,000 internally displaced people, to several other villages in Ituri.