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Congo's path back from war

In the northeast, a vital road reopened last month, offering a route to aid, trade, and returning refugees.

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Nyama Baku returned last July to Dele, in this country's northeast, to find his house burned to the ground, his possessions looted, and his once-fertile fields choked with weeds.

The 30-mile stretch that took him back to his war-ravaged village had become a crumbling road to nowhere.

But Baku, a father of five, and about 300 others in the area were hired to help rebuild it, in hopes that the roadway could lead villagers - and the region - toward a calmer, more prosperous future.

"The road has created an acceptable climate for people to return to their homes," Baku says, as he pauses from laboring on the sun-baked clay. "We have gained peace by working on the road."

The road linking Bunia, the main city in the wartorn Ituri district, to the port town of Kasenye along the shores of Lake Albert, opened in mid-January after six months of reconstruction.

Although peace in this region is still fragile, the road has become a path toward reversing some of the damage wreaked on the region by ethnic battles. Its reconstruction financed by the US Agency for International Development, the road is allowing villagers to rebuild their homes, aid organizations to deliver food, and traders to reach urban markets.

German Agro Action (GAA), a humanitarian-aid agency, initiated the $3 million project to restore the road by employing people along the route and by distributing 6,000 tons of food and more than 25,000 packets of blankets, plastic sheeting, and five-gallon jerrycans to help families returning to areas along the road.

"This is an experiment in grass-roots pacification," says Marcus Sack, the GAA project coordinator in Ituri. "We have tried to bring the warring communities together and show them they have nothing to gain from fighting by offering them employment and humanitarian aid with no coercion."


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