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UNHCR expands bus shuttle in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

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UNHCR expands bus shuttle in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

25 September 2001

SKOPJE - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today announced the expansion of its bus service that will cross ethnic lines and promote freedom of movement in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

UNHCR's first regular bus service began on 21 September between the border village of Jazince and Tetovo town. Two buses have been making three round trips daily on this 25-km route since. Arrangements are being made for similar transport services to areas to the west of Tetovo and in the Skopje and Kumanovo regions.

"Our intention is to bring communities together and build confidence in the peace process," said Amin Awad, UNHCR's representative in the country. "The bus services are designed to facilitate freedom of movement to and from war-affected areas. The buses should be able to move freely between ethnic lines and transport people in both communities with no hindrance and in absolute safety," he said.

"We would like to move teachers and students to and from schools," said Awad. "We would also like to see to it that factory workers and employees in the private sector and government are able to commute to their work places. We believe this will help bring back normalcy in areas that have been affected by the recent conflict."

The opening of UNHCR bus services in conflict-affected is a response to a government request. UNHCR has asked the government to issue instructions to authorities manning security checkpoints to facilitate the movement of the buses.

Earlier this month, UNHCR began a bus shuttle to enable displaced ethnic Macedonians staying in two collective centres in Skopje to visit their homes in Brnjaci just outside the capital. By mid-September, the 300 IDPs decided to go back to Brnjaci, joining about 70 others who have never left the village.

Since the signing of the peace agreement on 13 August, UNHCR has increased its presence in the country. Mobile teams have been fielded as part of an effort to help build confidence in the peace process and allow the return of displaced people and refugees. UNHCR has so far visited more than 50 of the 90 villages affected by the conflict.

More than 51,000 refugees have returned spontaneously from Kosovo, mostly to Skopje, Kumanovo and Tetovo. Although many villages caught in the six-month war have begun to normalize, allowing returns, a number of areas remain extremely volatile. UNHCR has warned against returns to these areas until the situation stabilizes.