FYROM: UNHCR continues confidence-building amid security worries
The rate of refugee returns from Kosovo has fallen to just under 200 per day as uncertainty continues over the security arrangements after NATO ends its arms collection mission on 26 September. More than 54,400 refugees have returned from Kosovo; another 27,400 remain there. The Macedonian Red Cross has registered at least 70,000 people displaced within the country, 60 percent of whom are ethnic Macedonians.
The 4,700-strong NATO contingent is completing its mission to collect firearms in the country on Wednesday and the alliance is expected to announce a transitional security arrangement soon, which UNHCR has been calling for in the past weeks. Discussions among NATO members indicate a small force will remain to secure international observers monitoring progress in the implementation of the 13 August agreement. UNHCR believes this is insufficient and has warned that a security vacuum could trigger a new round of violence and displacement.
In the meantime, UNHCR is continuing its confidence-building programme. UNHCR has stepped up its field presence, visiting more than 50 of the 90 villages affected by the six-month conflict. Last week, UNHCR began a bus service in the Tetovo region to allow all communities to cross ethnic lines and checkpoints. UNHCR is expanding the service to other areas in the Skopje and Kumanovo region.