FYROM: situation calm during NATO transition
The situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) remains calm amid the smooth transition between some 4,700 departing NATO arms-collection troops and the arrival of 1,000 soldiers for its new mission, Operation Fox, to protect international monitors. During a visit on Friday, the High Commissioner expressed hopes that the new international security force, together with the increased number of international monitors, will contribute to the further easing of tensions. UNHCR also hopes it will fill the security gap in the conflict-affected areas that armed groups and paramilitaries might exploit. Lubbers also called for the immediate formation of a mixed police force and the revival of civil administrations to build confidence in the peace process and allow refugees and displaced people to return in safety.
UNHCR yesterday distributed another 180 return packages containing blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting, tools, jerry cans, kitchen sets and hygiene kits to the villages of Tearce and Vratnica in the Tetovo region. In the village of Tearce, most of the 1,000 ethnic Macedonians had fled during the conflict. About 30 families have now returned, adding to some 60 elderly people who remained in their homes. In Vratnica, about 30 ethnic Macedonian families who had fled have now returned.
While many villages have been gradually showing signs of normalcy with returnees working to prepare for winter, there are still areas where the situation remains volatile. In Neprostino, a mixed village north of Tetovo, UNHCR yesterday found seven ethnic Macedonian families, mostly elderly, huddled amid heavily destroyed houses. These families spoke of looting and gunfire during the night and were extremely frightened to venture out of their homes. Many displaced villagers were present on a day visit, but said they will not return until the security condition improves. UNHCR promised to deliver aid supplies this week to those who remained in the village.
An estimated 55,000 refugees have returned from Kosovo to FYROM, leaving another 26,000 refugees in Kosovo. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross has revised its list of aid beneficiaries and brought down the number of those displaced internally to 41,000.