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Burning of houses harming the peace process

Specials, 5 February 2002

SKOPJE The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Skopje condemns the recent burning of houses in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). UNHCR calls on all FYROM citizens to respect the rule of law, and to show tolerance towards the minority members of any village in the country, regardless of ethnic background; an issue of crucial importance for the building of confidence among the citizens.

To UNHCR's knowledge, a house belonging to a person of minority background planning to return was recently set on fire in the Kumanovo village of Opae, while an attempt of arson in the village of Ropalce was prevented by neighbours.

"Such arson seems to be aimed at preventing people from returning to their homes, and will hinder UNHCR's efforts to help people to return in safety and dignity. These acts are detrimental to the peace process and the efforts to stabilise the country", said Amin Awad, UNHCR Representative in FYROM. "Assistance provided by UNHCR and other agencies is being funded by international donors, and the will to help FYROM may be put at risk by such acts". Mr. Awad added however that he is pleased to hear that in the case of the attempted arson in Ropalce, neighbours reacted quickly and managed to extinguish the fire. " A good example of community support, regardless of ethnic background, which gives hope for the future."

UNHCR is contributing to the Government's efforts to implement the Framework Agreement signed in Ohrid by assisting in helping all refugees and internally displaced persons to go home and to help ensure that the return is sustainable. The return of people who constitute a minority in their area of origin is one of the UN Refugee Agency's main concerns and challenges in the weeks and months to come, and additional efforts will be undertaken to facilitate this process. 21,000 persons remain displaced within the country, while some 10,000 refugees still stay in Kosovo.

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