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FYR of Macedonia: returns to Tetovo

Briefing notes

FYR of Macedonia: returns to Tetovo

19 October 2001

A significant number of displaced ethnic Macedonians have returned to their homes in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's Tetovo region, where they are in the minority. Up to 40 percent of the displaced Macedonian population has gone back to villages in the region 40 km west of Skopje. It was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the six-month ethnic Albanian insurgency. Returns in the Tetovo region, such as the mixed villages of Tearce, Neprosteno, Odri, Dobroste and Lesok, are considered one of the crucial elements in the peace process reached in August.

However, there have been reports of unexplained gunfire in both the Tetovo area and the Kumanovo region, 40 km north of Skopje. The incidents have reportedly grown in intensity in the last several days, causing increasing anxiety among the local population. While there have been no skirmishes between armed groups and security forces, UNHCR is concerned that the increased tension could affect the return of internally displaced people and refugees.

Since late June, some 60,000 refugees have returned to FYROM and another 20,000 remain in neighbouring Kosovo. In addition, the [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross says there are 53,000 internally displaced people in FYROM, 60 percent of them ethnic Macedonian.

In an attempt to secure returnees, particularly in the mixed villages, a step-by-step plan to deploy multi-ethnic police units has been drawn up by the government in cooperation with international observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union. These police units will be sent next week to five villages, which are either predominantly ethnic Macedonian or mixed. This will be the first step in the reestablishment of government authority in these troubled areas. UNHCR supports this move. Many of the displaced ethnic Macedonians and other minority groups say that the presence of police in their home villages would make them feel safe enough to go back.

Meanwhile, the Parliament's failure to ratify the peace agreement is creating uncertainty among ethnic Albanians who remain displaced. A statement by the president and the government on amnesty last week has been received with skepticism by the ethnic Albanians. They say that only an amnesty law will be satisfactory. UNHCR is urging the government to turn the president's good intention on amnesty into a concrete measure to allow displaced ethnic Albanians resume a normal life.