Bujumbura- Burundi (PANA) -- A voluntary repatriation operation for Burundian refugees living in neighbouring Rwanda started on Monday with the return home of 529 refugees, a press release from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bujumbura said.
It said the first convoy was greeted at the Rwandan-Burundian border of Kanyaru and the returnees were transferred to the transit centre of Mugano in the north-western part of the country.
They would receive assistance from the UNHCR, World Food Programme (WFP) and oth er specialised agencies of the United Nations system, pending their transfer, re s ettlement and reintegration into their communities on the hills of Rwanda, the c o mmuniqué said.
The joint operation conducted by the UNHCR, and Rwandan and Burundian governments, would continue for the next two weeks.
It is aimed at the definitive closure of the Kigeme camp in the south of Rwanda, where more than 2,000 Burundian refugees, are still residing, some for over 37 years.
Some 600 other Burundian refugees living in the urban centres of Rwanda are expe cted to be repatriated.
In total, the UNHCR is preparing to repatriate before the end of this year the 5 5,000 Burundian refugees still living in exile.
The UNHCR already says it has repatriated nearly 400,000 Burundian refugees, thanks to the gradual return of calm to the country.
The rebel National Liberation Forces (FNL) was the last obstacle to the repatria tion of the rest of the refugees, but recently accepted to lay down its arms.
Between 160,000 and 170,000 other refugees, who are part of some 200,000 Burundi ans, who fled the civil war in the 1970s, have chosen to naturalise in Tanzania.
Burundi has now become a safe haven for nearly 30,000 refugees from the neighbou ring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).