UN hastens repatriation

JUBA, Sudan - UN officials in Sudan are planning the first of a series of major airlifts to help tens of thousands of south Sudanese return home after years of conflict.

"We want to set up an airlift from Khartoum to Juba," said David Gressly, the UN deputy resident and humanitarian coordinator for southern Sudan.

The 2005 peace deal that ended more than 20 years of war between the north and the south of Sudan was preceded by a year-long ceasefire.

Estimates are that 400000 people have been returning to the semi-autonomous southern Sudan every year since then.

The government and the UN have planned for 300000 assisted returns this year, but an equal number of people are expected to head home on their own.

That would make this the year in which most people returned to their homeland.

Gressly said the planned airlift would be the first such operation on this scale to the south.

South Sudanese politicians were at first eager to bring most of the southerners home in time for a national census planned for late this year.

The results of the census will be used in planning elections.

But Gressly said politicians have since expressed their concern about the poor services that await returnees. - Reuters