UNHCR seeks urgent deployment of a security force in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
SKOPJE - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today called for a transitional international security presence before the departure of NATO forces to allow the safe return of all refugees and displaced people in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The 4,700 strong NATO force is due to leave FYROM on 26 September, ending its mission to collect arms from the ethnic Albanian rebels.
Eric Morris, UNHCR's special envoy for the Balkans, said security arrangement currently under discussion to replace NATO, mainly to protect international monitors overseeing the peace process, is probably not sufficient.
"What's needed is a credible security presence that can assist the FYROM government in maintaining law and order in affected areas and address the legitimate security concerns of both communities," Eric Morris said.
A surge of returns over the past two weeks saw more than 12,000 refugees head home from Kosovo. In total, 52,500 refugees have returned since June, with another 29,400 remaining in Kosovo. At least 76,000 are estimated to be displaced within FYROM, 60 percent of whom are ethnic Macedonians.
While there have been significant returns to many villages in relative safety, UNHCR is deeply alarmed that some conflict-affected areas around Kumanovo and Tetovo remain volatile and NATO's departure may create a vacuum that armed groups may exploit.
"We must not overlook the 'security dilemma' - the temptation on both sides to establish an irregular self-defense mechanism to fill the security gap," Morris said.
"A credible international security force can help to discourage the emergence of parallel institutions in FYROM and also serve to bridge the transition to set up a multi-ethnic police under the framework agreement.
"The international security arrangement should be temporary, but absolutely necessary to avoid further bloodshed and displacement. The international community must act now if it is to help consolidate the gains of peace since the 13 August peace agreement," Morris said.