FYR of Macedonia: ethnic Albanians returning despite road blockades
Ethnic Albanians using side roads continue to return to FYROM from Kosovo a rate of 2,000 a day, despite blockages of main roads by groups of ethnic Macedonians opposed to the ethnic Albanians' return. Since Wednesday night, ethnic Macedonian protesters have been blocking the road toward Tabanovce border with southern Serbia, in addition to the Blace road from Kosovo which has now been blocked for over 10 days. However, since the return movement started in July, more than 32,000 refugees have gone back from Kosovo, while about 48,000 refugees remain in the province.
UNHCR supports the right of all refugees and displaced people to return to their homes, but remains concerned that NATO's presence in FYROM may give a false sense of security to returnees. There has been a sharp increase in returns since NATO's deployment, despite the fact that NATO's role is clearly limited to weapons collection and does not involve general security. Sporadic security incidents occur daily in areas where there is a security vacuum, and UNHCR field teams report that there remains a credible fear and uneasiness among the people who stayed in the conflict-affected areas, as well as among the displaced people.
UNHCR field teams this week have made daily visits to conflict-affected villages around Tetovo and Kumanovo, assessing the needs of returnees and those who have stayed in their villages through the conflict. In a mixed village of Opaje, our field team found 7 ethnic Albanians who managed to survive fighting between security forces and the Albanian rebels. The village suffered much damage and the houses have been looted, but the villagers said they remained to protect their property, despite the fighting and harassment by the FYROM police who allegedly tried to make them leave the village.