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FYR of Macedonia: more returning than fleeing

Briefing notes

FYR of Macedonia: more returning than fleeing

7 August 2001

More than 22,000 refugees have returned to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from Kosovo since efforts to resolve the conflict between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians intensified last month. Over the weekend around 1,000 refugees returned, while another 200 fled into Kosovo. This has been the pattern in the past weeks - more people returning than fleeing. It reflects hope - that the displaced will soon be able to rebuild their lives - and also uncertainty because of continuing skirmishes. Sporadic shootings can still be heard in the troubled ethnic Albanian areas of Tetovo.

There are still 55,000 refugees in Kosovo and local authorities estimate that some 40,000 are displaced in FYROM. Large numbers of returns have been reported at Aracinovo, one of the heavily devastated villages since the war broke out in February in FYROM. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 returnees, most staying during the day, have been reported at Aracinovo, a largely ethnic Albanian village just outside the capital, Skopje. Last week, UNHCR sent two truckloads of relief supplies for the returnees there.

UNHCR staff are regularly visiting Aracinovo, but have had only limited access to Tetovo. On Friday, UNHCR's special envoy, Eric Morris, made a brief visit to the village of Slatino, 2 km north-east of Tetovo. An Albanian representative of the Tearce municipality, which covers Slatino, said an emergency council of civilians has been formed to help vulnerable people, including ethnic Macedonians, in the villages. There seems to be a certain level of cooperation between the two communities, but land mines and checkpoints make it difficult for villagers to harvest the fields or procure goods to stock up the shops.

Local attempts to calm down ethnic tensions can also be seen in Kumanovo, where the FYROM mayor and the Albanian deputy have been making much efforts to maintain open dialogue between communities. The town remains calm and streets are alive with daily activities despite having received 11,000 IDPs (both Albanian and ethnic Macedonian) from nearby villages, mainly above Aracinovo.

Presevo valley

Despite some initial concerns, there has been no movement of population after the killing of two police officers in Muhovac, Bujanovac municipality (see Saturday's release). The local Albanian human rights office in Bujanovac has confirmed that Serbian authorities investigations have been handled in a correct manner. UNHCR, nevertheless, had to postpone the two return convoys from Kosovo scheduled for this week to Novo Selo and Suharno, mainly to avoid feeding the anxieties and confusion among the communities in the immediate aftermath of the incident.