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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Zanzibar refugees to return 'soon'
Zanzibar refugees in Shimoni
The conditions at the Shimoni camp are cramped
The Zanzibari refugees, who have spent the past three months in a camp in Shimoni on the Kenyan coast, may soon return home.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says 680 of the refugees have said they want to be repatriated.

Map shoeing location of Shimoni and Zanzibar
The refugees fled the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar in January fearing persecution following an anti-government rally that ended in violence.

The UNHCR says it has guarantees from the Tanzanian authorities that the refugees will not be punished as a group on their return.

Confusion

The authorities had initially given ambiguous messages to the refugees - all supporters of the Tanzanian opposition Civic United Front (CUF) - over their possible treatment.

The Tanzanian Government said in February that the returnees would receive amnesty.

But the authorities on Zanzibar said anyone who returned would be punished.

Policeman attacks opposition supporter
The refugees were fleeing persecution on Zanzibar
The UNHCR has been negotiating with both the mainland and island authorities and says it has clarified the situation.

UNHCR Nairobi spokesman Paul Stromberg said the government would not arrest people en masse for participating in January's demonstration.

He said the government is only looking for specific individuals involved in the killing of a policeman.

The UNHCR has also insisted that it has a legal protection team on the islands to monitor the treatment of the refugees after their return.

Violence started on Pemba and Zanzibar on 27 January following the banning of a CUF rally calling for a re-run of last October's elections.

Street fight

A police battle with CUF supporters left at least 19 people dead including four policemen.

More than 2,300 Zanzibaris left the islands in the aftermath saying that they were being persecuted for their political beliefs.

Of those, about 500 have been relocated to a refugee camp in the Kenyan interior, others have left Shimoni to stay with friends or relatives in the area.

Mr Stromberg said UNHCR staff are currently looking for a suitable boat to take the refugees back to Zanzibar.

He said the repatriation exercise should begin in two weeks time. Mr Stromberg said that once the process begins most of the remaining 1,500 Zanzibari refugees will also want to return.

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See also:

23 Apr 01 | Africa
Zanzibar refugees in stand-off
06 Feb 01 | Africa
Zanzibar MPs flee to Kenya
02 Feb 01 | Africa
Zanzibar's shattered peace
30 Oct 00 | Africa
Violence after Zanzibar vote row
02 Mar 01 | Africa
Eyewitness: Suspicion on Pemba
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