Some 12,000 internally displaced Sudanese returning home with half a million head of cattle will take a month to traverse the bridge that is the only crossing-point over the White Nile in the region and many animals risk being killed on the heavily mined road leading there, a United Nations refugee agency spokeswoman said today.
The Dinka herdsmen have been trekking from West Equatoria, the area of their refuge from civil war, to their homes in Bor, some 180 kilometres north of Juba, the recently designated capital of South Sudan, where they made a rest stop.
The only road between Juba and Bor remains heavily mined and UN agencies are concerned that many cattle will die during the migration, the spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jennifer Pagonis, told reporters in Geneva.
To avoid congesting Juba, former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers escorting different groups of men and cattle have been directing them through the outskirts of Juba and towards the bridge which will take them in the direction of Bor, she said.
The 21-year-long conflict in south Sudan, brought to an end by a peace agreement in January, displaced more than 4 million people within Sudan, while another 500,000 Sudanese fled to neighbouring countries.
Some of the south Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries have begun to go back home after two decades abroad, while some 1,700 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are preparing to leave south Sudan for their home country after 40 years in exile.
The DRC refugees settled in Juba after fleeing the post-independence turmoil and coup that brought Mobutu Sese Seko to power in 1965 in the country he renamed Zaire.
Even though a large number of the group were born in South Sudan and have been integrated into Sudanese society, some want to return to the land of their forebears and have asked UNHCR to help them repatriate, Ms. Pagonis said.
Cooperating closely with the Sudanese Commission of Refugees in identifying the refugees, UNHCR expects to complete their registration on Friday and to start the first repatriation by plane as soon as possible to areas near Kisangani, Bumba, Akete or Banduka in eastern DRC, she said.